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azyeoman

Small collection of POW groups. ** REGIONAL ADMIN. AWARD & CERT. OF MERIT. *A RECOMMENDED POST

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An updated photo of the FEPOW groups.

Top left, the Singapore PoW who died on the Hell Ship.

Bottom left, the Hong Kong PoW who worked in a mine in Japan.

Botton right, the Singapore PoW who was held in Taiwan where he died and was later buried in Hong Kong.

Edited by azyeoman

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A recent acquisition of a WWI silver Comforts for Soldiers War Work Brighton Depot badge. They provided for goods for soldiers but also care packages for PoWs during the Great War.

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Photos of documents regarding the Brighton Comforts for Soldiers War Work Depot. In the horizontal photo, the Brighton Depot spent 121 pounds, 12 Shillings and three pence from 1914 - 1919. The depot were caring for 20 PoWs in August of 1916, but by December 1916, they were no longer able to send packages, although they could still keep in contact.

Edited by azyeoman

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A Tobruk PoW Group

1939-45 Star, Africa Star; War Medal; E.M. 'Territorial' (G.VI.R. 1st type) (Bdr., R.A.) and RA cap badge and pair of collar insignia.

With copies of the PoW rolls confirming that 921515 Sgt. F.J. Beard was PoW no. 138691 at Campo 73 in Italy and at Stalag 357 (Fallingbostel) in Germany. For more info on Stalag 357 go to:

http://www.fallingbostelmilitarymuseum.de/stalag/stalag.htm

With a copy of his PoW papers - Frank Joseph Beard was born on 1/5/14 at Ipswich, Suffolk; where he was a packer in an engineering works and lived at 169 Woodville Road, Ipswich.

He enlisted on 22/5/1939 and served in North Africa with the 67th (Suffolk) Medium Regt. R.A. (T.A.) and was taken prisoner at Tobruk on 21/6/42. He was held at Benghazi until November 1942 when he was moved to Italy. While in Italy he was held at several PoW camps: Campo 68 at Vetralla (Dec 1942 to Jan 1943); Campo 73 at Carpi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossoli_di_Carpi (Jan 1943 to Mar 1943) and Campo 53 at Macerata (Mar 1943 to May 1943). He was Camp Leader at a Work Camp at Cona, near Padora, from May to Sep 1943. After being moved to Germany he was held at Stalag 9a at Altengrabow (Nov 1943 to Mar 1944) http://www.memorialmuseums.org/eng/staettens/view/9/Gedenkstätte-und-Museum-Trutzhain; at Stalag 357 at Thorn, Poland (Apr 1944 to Aug 1944); and at Fallingbostel near Hanover (Aug 1944 to Apr 1945). He was not seriously ill during his captivity and signed his PoW report on 4/5/45. Beard most certainly was on the "Long March".

For more information and to see an exceptionally interesting German photograph album of Stalag IXA, go to: http://www.indianamilitary.org/German%20PW%20Camps/Prisoner%20of%20War/PW%20Camps/Stalag%20IX-A%20Ziegenhain/Photos/Stalag%20IX-A.htm

He died at Ipswich in December 1999.

The 67th Medium Regt. RA TA was unfortunate to have been on board the SS Scillion that was torpedoed on the way to Italy from north Africa in 1942. On November 13th, 1942, at Tripoli, 814 Allied PoWs were ordered into the Italian SCILLIN's cargo hold, which was only suitable for around 300. The result was severe overcrowding and insanitary conditions. More prisoners would have been loaded, but the British military doctor (Capt. Gilbert, RAMC) made vehement and repeated protests. Some reports state that a further 195 PoWs were disembarked before Scillin sailed and that there were some 200 Italian troops on board; others dispute these points saying that the only Italian troops on board were guards and gun crews and the surplus PoWs were never actually boarded.

On the night of 14 November off the Tunisian coast SCILLIN was ordered to stop with gunfire by the British submarine HMS SAHIB. She did not respond, so her captain decided to torpedo SCILLIN. Those in the hold had little chance of survival as the torpedo had hit the hold itself and the ship sank rapidly. SAHIB was able to rescue 27 POWs (26 British and one South African), the SCILLIN's captain and 45 Italian crew members, before the arrival of an Italian warship obliged her to leave. Only when survivors were heard speaking English, did SAHIB's captain realize that the SCILLIN was carrying POWs. For more on the SCILLIN go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Scillin

Edited by azyeoman

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Campo 73 (right to left) As British PoW Camp in 1942, camp map and the entrance to today's museum. Campo 73 or Fossoli de Carpi, was also a concentration camp.

FOSSOLI, internment camp for British prisoners of war in the village of Fossoli, on the outskirts of the town of Carpi, in the province of Modena (Emilia), created by the Italian army in 1942. Opening in July, the camp consisted primarily of tents housing 1,800 British internees and 350 Italian guards under the command of Col. Giuseppe Ferraresi. In September a second section was opened and work began to substitute the tents with barracks. Living conditions for the prisoners were in accordance with international law, and representatives of the Red Cross visited regularly. By the summer of 1943, the two sections of the camp held about 4,000 prisoners.

After the Italian armistice with the Allies announced on September 8, 1943, the Germans began their long-planned occupation of Italy. Fossoli was under German control by the 9th. All Allied prisoners were deported to German camps, primarily Bergen-Belsen, during the second half of September.

At the end of November 1943, police order number 5 of the Ministry of the Interior of the Italian Social Republic announced that all properties of Jews were to be confiscated and that the Jews themselves should be arrested and detained. On December 5, the second section of the Fossoli camp was designated for Jewish prisoners and placed under the authority of the prefect of Modena, Bruno Calzolari. Within a few weeks, almost 1,000 Jews were detained in the camp. On March 15, the Germans officially took over the second section, which they had unofficially occupied since February, and placed it under the authority of the Befehlshaber der Sipo-SD, Wilhelm Harster, who resided in Verona. The second section then became a Polizei- und Durchgangslager controlled directly by the German SS and used as a base for the deportation of Jews and political prisoners to the East. The Italians continued to control the other section of the camp, where prisoners not destined for deportation were held. SS Untersturmfuehrer Karl Titho, aided by SS Hauptscharfueher Hans Haage, were awarded the direct command of the German section of Fossoli. Under them was a small group of SS, some Ukrainian volunteers, and some Italians from the Social Republic. Italians arrested for political or racial reasons, mainly in the northwestern region of the country, were sent to Fossoli. Deportations began on February 19, 1944, and ended on August 1 of that year, when the advancing Allies forced the Germans to retreat farther north. At that point, the Germans established their camp for political and racial prisoners at Bolzano-Gries. Altogether, about 5,000 prisoners were deported from Fossoli, of whom 2,461 were Jews.

Between autumn 1945 and the second half of the 1960s, Fossoli hosted various kinds of refugees: foreigners residing temporarily in Italy in the first postwar years as well as, after 1952, Italians fleeing from Dalmatia, controlled by Tito. The camp was then abandoned for several years. In 1973, the mayor of Carpi asked the Italian government for authority to turn Fossoli into a site of special remembrance. This was done in 1984. In 1996, a cultural foundation at the former camp was created for the purpose of educating new generations and nurturing the memory of the suffering that had occurred there. A study center dedicated to the memory of Primo *Levi, the great Italian Jewish writer who was deported to Auschwitz from the camp on February 22, 1944, was also created there.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

M. Sarfatti, Gli Ebrei nell Italia fascista: Vicende, identità, persecuzione (2001); C.S. Capogreco, I Campi del Duce. (2004).

[Guri Schwarz (2nd ed.)]

Edited by azyeoman

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Sgt. Harry Hawthorne, 5Bn. KOSB was a PoW in Stalag XiB and in Stalag 357. He wrote down his experiences for the BBC as follows.

Thousands of men, who had been trained to kill other men; to blow up bridges; to parachute from aeroplanes and jump out of gliders; suddenly found themselves in a strange type of society - a society without women and without money. We had no training which would prepare us for this kind of living.

But, some kind of organisation was needed, if thousands of men were to live in overcrowded conditions, and overcome the hardships of cold and poor food and general lack of amenities. I appreciated that the maintenance of morale was essential, if my men and I were to survive our period in captivity, and be fit to celebrate our eventual release and return to freedom.

I admit that there was not much incentive to jump out of your bunk in the morning to face another monotonous day. In Stalag XI B, the daily routine was as follows - rise and wash at 0700 hours; drag oneself up to the cook house for a mug of Ersatz coffee; parade for Roll Call at 0730 hours; clean bed area; exercise period 0800 hours to 0930 hours - when thousands of POWs performed the "Stalag Shuffle". Going round and round in a circle, with only the sight of the head and shoulders of the man in front of you as the view. Sometimes, I felt the urge to walk the other way and face the circle of men for a change. But I do not think that I ever did.

At 1100 hours there was an issue of Turnip Soup, sometimes with the addition of potato peelings. Another Roll Call at 1300 hours. More Ersatz coffee at 1330 hours. A more substantial meal was prepared from the contents of Red Cross parcels by
ourselves at about 1500 hours, and then the final Roll Call of the day at 1600 hours.

The Germans were obsessed by numbers, and the need to count and recount their captives. Sometimes, it was amusing to witness the difficulties they had in reconciling the numbers at each count, but of course the humour was tempered by the long wait on the cold parade ground. At around 1700 hours, we would make some form of tea meal, and if supplies allowed a light supper about 1930 hours.

Cleanliness was essential to the maintenance of morale. It was not easy with limited washing facilities, but I very much admired one Corporal, who, no matter the circumstances, turned out very smart every day. "Out of a bandbox", I commented.

But man does not live by bread alone. It was essential to keep one's brain active. This was done by talks, spelling quizzes and other stimulants to combat the lethargy to which one could easily succumb. My contribution to help overcome boredom was to give talks on the Red Army-"From Trotsky to Timoshenko". These talks were well received, even when the lighting in the huts failed.

When I later arrived at Stalag 357, this was a well organised camp from the P.O.W. viewpoint. There must have been quite a few long term prisoners, for various activities had been solidly established by then, before my comrades and I arrived.

I recall attending a meeting of the Toc H organisation in the camp, but the place which gave me the most delight was the Library. At first I could not believe my eyes, when I first saw shelf after shelf of books arranged in their respective categories. I used its facilities right away! I still have in front of me a piece of paper which shows that on Wednesday, 7th.March, 1945, I withdrew from the library a book called "The Meaning of Rousseau" by an author called Wright. The method of using the Library was as follows - one removed a book from the shelves, and put the form on the shelf in place of the book. When you replaced the book, the form was destroyed. I must have held on to this particular one, which is numbered 320.

Edited by azyeoman

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Great new additions.

It has to be the finest collection of POW related lapel badges and other devices I have seen, well done in acquiring them. These object are often disposed of and not considered worthy of collecting by many mainstrem collectors and dealers.

Please keep posting.

Brian

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Another addition of an escaper and his wife's medals too.

1939 Star

Africa Star with 8th Army bar

Italy Star

Defence Medal

War Medal

Mounted as worn with original documents including his Record of Service Card and his Soldier’s Release Book, also with other documents including a reference from his employer and a letter regarding an insurance policy. And with his original Emergency Certificate issued by the British Consul at Zurich (damaged), which contains a photograph of the recipient and states that John Richard Langan was born in Liverpool. There is also a copy of his Escaper’s Report too and a 12th Lancers cap badge.

7911773 Pte. John Langan served with the R.A.C. (12th Lancers) 13/6/40 to 14/2/45 and with the Royal Army Pay Corps 15/2/45 to 8/5/46. He joined the 12th Royal Lancers Regimental Association on 9/4/46.

Pte. Langan was born 4/7/14 and was discharged from 15th Bn. RAPC as a clerk, having been a driver and salesman before enlisting. His conduct was "exemplary".

He was taken prisoner in North Africa and was held at Campo 53; however he later escaped and made his way safely to Switzerland. According to his PoW Escaper Report, he was taken prisoner on 6/6/42 when his truck broke down during the fighting at 'Knightsbridge' and he was taken prisoner next day by a German artillery column. When the Italians surrendered he was working on a farm at Monticello; he stayed there for the next three weeks and was then taken by a guide working for an unknown organization by train to Luino from where he got across the border to Agno in Switzerland on 30/9/43.

Some specifics on PG53 are:
PG53 Sforza costa. PM 3300 Central Region, Near Maserata. On Plain Alt.460ft.
Large Stone Bulding (Linen weaving Mill) 25 Acres in Area. Camp in sections and sub sections. 2km from Urbisaglia.

Strength 30/6/43 - 7 Officers, 6209 O.Rs. 6204 Brit. 1 Aus. 11 S/Africans.
Some O.Rs transfered to Germany 25/7/43.
Position 43:18N - 13:22E

Commandant 3/9/43 was Colonel Petragnani.

Sgt. Bill Cooper wrote the following on his time in Campo 53 from which he escaped.

Campo Concentremento 53 was located in Sforzacosta, which is on the railway line 12 miles south of Macerata and close to the east coast of Italy in the Marche region. The camp itself was about one mile from the town railway station. In 1942 the prison camp was on the western edge of the town and was a fairly modern building having been built to refine sugar beets. The outline of the camp was almost like a large capital "E" and entrance was made through an archway built into the wall of the main leg. The north and south parts of the camp consisted of tall storage buildings which, when I arrived, housed about 800 prisoners each on just the one floor with no room divisions. By the time I left there must have been more than 2000 men in that one area!

Between these two large buildings were another two smaller ones which had previously been the factory's administration blocks. They also now housed prisoners. In total when I first got there, the camp had 2000 inmates and this rose to 8000 by the date of my escape.

The buildings were fairly modern and were made of thick concrete. The west of the refinery was an open area of about six acres, the fencing consisted of an outer fence about 30 feet high and an inner one 15 feet from that and 10 feet high. The space between was filled with every scrap of barbed wire that could be found and was continually being added to with more old wire. At the corners of this wire and every 50 yards were wooden sentry posts with machine guns.

For this mass of humanity there was only one small crude toilet block, 12 "squatters" and only three stand pipes providing water.

The camp was commanded by a "Blackshirt" Colonel who had made the "March on Rome" with Mussolini. Under his command he had a number of elderly officers, an ample supply of sentries, dogs, Carabinieri, (who circled the prisoners living quarters night and day) and two interpreters. One of these was from a well-known Glasgow ice cream firm who had returned to Italy to bury his grandmother and was nabbed by the army at the outbreak of the war. He was called "Wee Jock." The other interpreter was a waiter from the peacetime Savoy Hotel who had also got his timing wrong. His name, for some reason I never found out, was "Harry's Brother."

The Italian administration was not very good but there was of course the British Camp Administration which was much more effective. However, in my opinion, this admin had become much too friendly with the Italians. The general camp were always hungry but I know these admin staff got extra food (and wine!) into the camp for themselves, but could not (or would not!) get such escape items as radio parts in. They seemed to go out of their way not to rock the boat for the Italians even to the extent of offering to guard the camp themselves to stop escapes when Italy withdrew from the Axis forces!!

Langan's wife’s pair

Defence Medal

War Medal

Mounted as worn with original Release Book

Cap badge and pair of collar insignia.

Cpl. E. Marsland, Auxiliary Territorial Service

Ethel Marsland was born 11/4/20 and enlisted 16/4/43. She was a clerk attached to the R.A.P.C. With a copy of the 'Stockport Express' containing a photo of her first husband, Cpl. James Marsland, reported missing. She married John Langan in Stockport in 1947.

Edited by azyeoman

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Another WWI PoW pair to the W. Yorks/Green Howards with cap badge.

34619 Pte. J. W. (James William) Gedney, West Yorkshire Regt and later 35144 Yorkshire Regt. (Green Howards) was born in Whaplode, Lincolnshire and lived at Thorney, Cambridgshire. He enlisted at Wisbech. He was formerly 34619 in the 9th Training Reserve Bn. He died on 8 December 1918, not even a month after the war ended. He was a PoW and died in Germany and is buried in the cemetery at Niederzwehren, Hessen, Germany. (Grave IV.F.*.) He is commorated at Middlesborough. 68 Green Howards died in captivity. Gedney is also commerated on the war memorial at Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire. (see photos) Entitled to plaque.

(Note : Although SDGW reports that Private Gedney was "Killed in Action", he would, in fact, have been a Prisoner of War. The Green Howards Gazette of September 1918 reported him as missing, captured in July 1918, and as a PoW in March 1919.)

The cemetery near Kassal was begun by the Germans in 1915 for the burial of prisoners of war who died at the local camp. During the war almost 3,000 Allied soldiers and civilians, including French, Russian and Commonwealth, were buried there

In 1922-23 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries. Niederzwehren was one of those chosen and in the following four years, more than 1,500 graves were brought into the cemetery from 190 burial grounds in Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse and Saxony.

There are now 1,796 First World War servicemen buried or commemorated in the Commonwealth plot at Niederzwehren. This total includes special memorials to 13 casualties buried in other cemeteries in Germany whose graves could not be found.

Edited by azyeoman

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Gunner Len Dann wrote about his Campo 53 experiences in this extract from his book "Laughing- We Ran".

"All the talk was of spies and several raids had been made in the area to round up young Italians for forced labour and at the same time to collect any British Prisoner who got caught in the net. I myself, like thousands of other POW's had fled from a prison camp, when Italy tried to make a separate peace and now were scattered the length and breadth of the country, or rather those of us who still remained at large, for many had been taken either within a few hours, or collected one by one as the Germans came across them in the ensuing months. I, with many others, had come from the "Campo di Coneetramento P.G. 53" at Maracerata, slipping away in the early evening with a friend, and managing to get some five or six miles before the sound of a machine gun, told us the enemy had arrived at the camp we had so recently left."

"I remember that day clearly, we had been paraded in the recreation field and the Senior British Officer spoke to us of the separate peace, then told us the Allied Forces should be with us in a matter of days and he didn't want any "Bloody silly heroics", at this stage. Any man disobeying the order would find a court martial waiting for him, should he ever reach the Allies... In an hour or so it was noticed that the Italian sentries had gone and this fact alone worried me. Perhaps they had heard more than we had. I talked it over with my friend John and he agreed to leave the camp with me after the evening meal. I suggested we wait for this, for we would have no idea how long it might be before a cooked one came our way again. Of the seven thousand men in the camp six thousand chose to stay put, while the remainder, grabbing what kit they could, ran out through the gates, holes in the wire and over the walls. This before the exits were sealed and the sentry boxes manned again, but this time by our own men, who in the traditions of the regiments from which they came, carried out their orders without imagination. John and I crept out by a small semi-hidden gate, thirty seconds ahead of the party bent on closing it."

"Being a country chap, I was no sooner out of the gates than I had insisted on striking inland towards the mountain range, some thirty miles west. John was at first against the climbing and cross country going, but soon saw the wisdom of my choice. I said "What if it does taken an effort to get up into the mountain, we can look down on anything on the roads below, and come down again in a few days when our army arrives". So together with Ginger, another escapee from the camp, we made our way slowly westward deeper into the foothills, walking by day and spending each night with Italian families, who without exception welcomed us with open arms. Never did we go to sleep without a hot meal, or leave the next morning without a loaf of bread and directions on how to avoid the roads. We received many requests to stay and wait for the Allies to come, but stay I would not, refusing flatly to even consider the idea, until I could look down on the countryside, and know I had time to get away across the "campi" before any approaching vehicle could reach our level."

"After a year inside none of us was as strong as we thought we were and three days march, either up a hill, or down, never on the level had taken what little strength we had. In the farm house of "Francesco Biagoli" we stayed for a few weeks, then split up into three different houses as the burden of keeping us had become too great for the family. I stayed with Frank a while longer in Poggio, then finally moved to a house in San Costenzo. In my walks around the area (I liked to know the lines of retreat) I had met an Officer from the Italian Air Force, who at the time of capitulation had fled back to his native countryside to avoid transportation to Germany and he asked me to join him in his house. A typical farmhouse and farm now being run by his mother, sister and sister in law. All the work was done by the women, who carried immense loads on their heads, toiling from dawn till dusk to get the farm chores done. With the coming of myself to join "Toni" some of the heavy jobs were taken off their hands, mucking out the oxen, hoeing the fields, carrying fodder, anything to repay for the food, warmth and shelter provided by these kindly people... This was to be my home for the next nine months." For his complete story go to: http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/len_dann.htm

Peter Oliver, whose father was 4275708 Sgt. Samuel Oliver of 1 Bn. NF and held in PG 53, visited the camp and wrote, "I was surprised to find that many of the buildings used for PG 53 were still intact. Prior to use as a POW Camp it was a factory with concrete buildings which were now used by small businesses. The camp entrance and iron gates were still standing and the recreation area remained overgrown with some evidence of the perimeter fence. In 1944 the camp had been used as a Jewish Concentration Camp and an Israeli organization had mounted a memorial at the entrance."

His father wrote the below, which gives a good overview of what Langan and his fellow PoWs.

My stay at Campo 73 was broken short when on the afternoon of 13th February 1943 I left for Campo 53.

Transfer to Campo 53 near Macerata

On leaving the camp we were issued with a loaf of bread and a tin of Italian bully beef each. This we ate on the train journey not realising that this consisted of our following day's ration, and on arrival at the new camp, it was only through the generosity of the men there that we obtained any food at all that day. My chief concern on leaving Campo 73 was three miles march from the camp to Corpi station as I was not sure whether my leg would stand the strain of that distance. My fears were unfounded however because I arrived at the station in a much better condition than a good number of other men who were with me.

The train journey commenced about four o'clock in the afternoon and we arrived in Modena an hour later. We had a stay of four hours in Modena during which the guards obtained hot water for us to make tea from the houses close by. We travelled all night during which I made several attempts to obtain some sleep, through the cold and the confined space we were in. When daylight broke we found that we were travelling through mountainous country dotted with numerous farms.

Soon after we arrived at our destination and were met by a strong military escort. At the moment I have been unable to obtain the name of this locality but the village only consists of a few houses. After walking for a very short distance we arrived at what had obviously been a factory of some description. On entering we were searched and then placed in the No. 2 compound. Here we were issued with a spoon, a bowl, a pillow, two white sheets, and two blankets. The issue of two white sheets came as a very pleasant surprise to us. The wooden bunks were three tiers high and about 500 hundred men slept in the building that I was allotted to. The water supply was very unsatisfactory and consisted of a few taps connected onto a water pipe. However improvements in the camp were under construction and better organisation was being instituted.

The food was identical to the previous camp but I thought we obtained a little more. The strength of the camp was some six thousand men. The administration was the same as Camp 73 with the padre, the medical officers, and the warrant officers in command. The camp was divided into 3 compounds and we had a large exercise ground including a football pitch. I spent a good deal of my time on the exercise ground as walking was improving my leg but I deeply regretted being unable to play football. The camp was situated no great distance from the Adriatic Sea and the snow clad mountains made an impressive sight. These mountains I believe to be the Appenines that run roughly north to south across central Italy. The greatest surprise I received at this camp was meeting the majority of my company who told me of the difficult times they had experienced since I last saw them.

They were all under the impression that I had been killed and my company commander also believed me to be dead. They were all very pleased to see me and they paid frequent visits to my compound to have a chat with me. I learnt from them that one of our officers whom I thought to be dead was safe as a prisoner of war. They also told me that the Camp Army Commander had promised a grand reunion when we once more regained our freedom.

At the time of my arrival in this camp the death rate was at a high figure but I was told it had decreased. During my first few days in camp one man had dropped dead on the exercise ground and another man was found dead in bed. Red Cross medical supplies had only just arrived at the camp and previous to that the medical officer had little or none at all. The Camp Commandant was a strict disciplinarian but I was told he had greatly improved the camp since he took over command.

Reveille was at 6.30am every morning and roll call was held at 10 o'clock in the morning and about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The majority of lights were put out at half past nine at night. Periodical searches were held and inspections of sheets and blankets. If sheets or blankets were damaged in anyway the holder was made to pay for them. The supply of Red Cross parcels up to the time of my arrival had not been good but had improved a great deal since. As a POW Red Cross parcels are our first consideration as we would have great difficulty in existing without them.

This account has now been concluded up to the time of writing, February 21st, 1943. My hopes are that by the end of this year or early in 1944, I will be released from captivity.

During my first 2 weeks in Campo 53 further drafts of prisoners came in and at the moment the camp is overcrowded and the sleeping accommodation is inadequate. My first tour of duty as orderly sergeant was difficult to that of Campo 73. My duties included the following: a tour around all platoon areas at 07.00 hours to ensure no man was too sick as to be unable to get out of bed, to open all windows in the barrack room at 09.00 hours and to keep them open all day, to parade all fatigue parties required that day, to warn the following day's orderly sergeant that his tour of duty was approaching, and finally to put lights out at 21.00 hours.

On the late afternoon of February 24th one of our prisoners was fired upon by an Italian sentry and killed. I do not know at the moment the full authentic circumstances of his death. Inside of the main barbed wire fence and placed about three yards from it was a trip wire attached to small pickets about 50 inches high. This trip wire extended right around the camp and prisoners were warned that they had not to approach over this wire. Apparently the prisoner concerned was on the wrong side of the wire and was fired upon by a sentry.

On February 23rd I had a most pleasant surprise when an old school friend of mine, John Phillips, visited me. We both live close to each other at home and it was difficult to ascertain which of us was the more surprised. He wore signs of the difficult times he had experienced but was still very cheerful. We talked of old school friends and future reunions we would attend at school. Both being married men we also talked of our future domestic worries. We now see each other regularly.

The camp is not in a very happy state at the moment as the number of Red Cross parcels available for issue is not great. I have visions of eating olive oil and bread as I once had to do at Campo 73. I thought then I would have difficulty in convincing my people at home that I had been reduced to such a state.

The nearest place of any importance to the camp I am in at present is Macerata. I saw the name on the vehicle that brings the camp rations in daily so I think I am correct. During the past few weeks the strength of the camp has increased to over seven thousand men and the result is that the camp is overcrowded. For the past week I have been suffering with a very severe cold but I appear to have recovered from it now.

A large number of men in the camp spend their time constructing many useful articles from empty Red Cross food tins. These tinsmiths have produced some amazing work to suit their various needs. As is to be expected, amongst the large number of men in the camp, there were many who possess a great deal of talent in many different subjects. Consequently an Arts & Crafts exhibition was held and the works displayed in the Camp Chapel. Prizes were awarded for the best entries. The Camp Commandant viewed the display and also offered prizes. Amongst many articles displayed were tin cups and plates, xxxxxx, drawings, cloth embroidery, packs of playing cards, xxxxx, and tin suitcases. The highlight of the exhibition was a clock made entirely of tin that kept the correct time. A close second was a tin cross dedicated to the fallen of this war and a portrait of a girl.

This exhibition must have greatly impressed the Italians. To relieve the Sergeant in charge of our platoon of some of his work my friend and I took over the platoon canteen. Since then we have had a very busy time juggling with masses of figures on paper and sorting onions into kilos. The staple food of POW's in this camp is definitely onions in my opinion. I received a pleasant surprise last night, 8th of March, when my name was called out for a cigarette parcel which I should receive today. On or about the 12th March two of our men succeeded in escaping from the camp but unfortunately they were caught the following day. As a result of this attempted escape we now have nominal roll calls very frequently. The two white sheets we had issued to us have also been taken from us. The reason given for this was that Italian prisoners in our hands were without sheets and so the Italian authorities had to adopt similar measures.

The camp is now almost 8,000 strong and is perilously overcrowded. During recent days the news has been in our favour but the news of two severe air attacks on Newcastle on successive nights caused me some concern. Conditions at the camp greatly improved when the new shower baths were put into operations. Nearing the end of March an earth tremor shook the camp buildings and I might add the prisoners also. The months of April and May brought us favourable news of the war in Africa and brought to our minds the possibility of an invasion of Italy. During these months almost 3,000 men left camp to work. The majority of these men were detailed and had no other choice than to go. Their going improved the camp in that there was more space in the rooms and this improved health conditions. The supply of Red Cross parcels has been very good and we have seldom been without them during recent weeks. At the moment slit trenches have been dug around the outskirts of the parade ground, no reason was given for their use.

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An interesting trio to man captured at Calais.

1. 1939-45 Star

2. War Medal

3. E.M. 'Territorial' (G.VI.R. 1st type) Gnr. R.L. Roberts, R.A.

with cap badge and pair of collar insignia.

With a copy of the P.O.W. roll showing that he was P.O.W. no. 7525 at Stalag 20A at Thorn, Poland. With copy P.O.W. papers - Ronald Lloyd Roberts was born on 18/4/18 and enlisted on 18/10/37, a capstan operator living at 10 Coisley Road, Woodhouse, Sheffield. He was taken prisoner at Calais on 27/5/40 whilst a Gnr. in the 2nd Searchlight Bty., 1st Searchlight Regt. R.A. The unit took part in the fighting at Calais and one of its officers was the famous escaper and politician Airey Neave. The recipient was held at Stalag 20A from 12/5/41 to 23/2/45 and throughout that time worked as an automobile cleaner. He was lectured on escape and evasion by Major Deighton at Hereford on 10/3/40. During his captivity he was cross-examined by the Germans on the whereabouts of his unit and on the nature of his duty as a British soldier. Under 'Sabotage' he wrote - "continued destruction to enemy vehicles during the time 12/9/41 to 23/2/45 as my work brought me in contact with transport due for front line". He also mentioned the invaluable help of a Polish family, including Miss Jadwiga Licau of Thorn, from November 1942 to April 1945; she brought food to him in Stalag 20A - bread, eggs, meat, butter, etc.; in 1945 she sheltered and fed him and supplied him with civilian clothes and cash. She took a serious risk and was caught and interrogated by the Gestapo. He also reported - "2nd March 1945 - Breitgasse, Thorn - articles stolen - gold wristlet watch - Russian captain, 2 soldiers - violently threatened by the soldier holding machine gun - value £10/-/-."

He died at Colchester, Essex, in April 2001 aged 83.

In Sebag-Montefiore"s book, Dunkirk, he writes on what the 1st Searchlight Regt. did in the battle:

At 2PM on 23 May a group of some fifty men from the 1st Searchlight Regt. blocked the 1st Panzer Division's attempt to cross the Calais-St. Omer road near the village of Les Attaques. (This village is some three miles south-east of Bastion 6 on Calais' outer perimeter). Using bren guns, rifles and anti-tank rifles, as well as a bus and a three-ton lorry as barricades, the 1st Searchlight Regiments' C Troop held up the German panzers from some three hours at the village before being forced to surrender. German panzers were held up for another two hours by another group from the same regiment near the village of Le Colombier, one mile further to the north-west up the Calais-St. Omer road. By the time this latter group retreated to Calais' outer perimeter at 7p.m., the 1st Panzer Division had registered that Calais was strongly held and could not be taken with a surprise attack.

Edited by azyeoman

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Congratulations on a great addition to your already fantastic POW collection! While such 'small' WWII medal groups seem less appealing than larger groups, they may represent men such as Roberts, who had very adventurous wars.

A few days ago I was tempted to buy a 39/45 Star/War Medal pair to a seaman who was killed when his RN ship was sunk during the evacuation of Dunkirk. I resisted the temptation since I stopped collecting WWII RN medals many years ago because of the difficulty in researching the men behind the medals.

Regards

Brett

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Thanks Brett,

It's interesting about the Polish woman and about the Russians... great Allies, eh?

Calais was an important part in the 1940 Battle for France. Here's some info on it.

The siege of Calais of 23-26 May saw some of the most desperate fighting during the German campaign in the west in 1940. A combined French and British force was able to hold off heavy German attacks for three critical days, allowing the Allies to consolidate their hold on Dunkirk, but at the cost of the virtual destruction of the garrison.

During the period of the Phoney War Calais and the northern channel ports had been of little military significance. At the start of the war the British supplies lines stretched back to western France, partly because the French refused to allow the British to use Dunkirk, Calais or Boulogne for fear of provoking German air raids, although they had been used by large numbers of men visiting Britain on leave. Under British pressure the French had slowly relented, but by the spring of 1940 only Boulogne had come into regular use, while the main British supply lines still stretched back to ports west of the Somme.

This all began to change after the start of the German campaign in the west. The German breakthrough at Sedan on 14-15 May split the Allied armies in half, and when Guderian’s Panzers reached the coast at Abbeville on 20 May, the B.E.F.’s supply lines were cut. Suddenly Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne became of critical importance. The true scale of the disaster had not yet been realised, and so when the first troops landed at Calais, their mission was to establish a new supply line to the BEF, which was still fighting around Lille and Arras, over fifty miles inland. Plans were also put in place to use the three ports to evacuate the B.E.F. if necessary.

nicholson_claude.jpg
Brigadier Claude
Nicholson

The defence of Calais would be carried out by Calais Force. This force contained one battalion each from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles), the Queen Victoria Rifles and the Rifle Brigade, the 229th anti-tank battery of the Royal Artillery and a battalion from the Royal Tank Regiment, equipped with 21 light and 27 cruiser forces. This force would be supported by part of a Searchlight Regiment and part of an anti-aircraft regiment, all under the command of Brigadier Claude Nicholson. 800 French soldiers were also present in Calais, and would defend the citadel, a crucial part of the defences. This gave Nicholson a total of around 4,000 men.

After reaching the coast on 20 May, the Germans stopped for a day. When they began to move north on 22 May, the 10th Panzer Division was given the task of taking Calais, while the 1st Panzer Division was sent towards Dunkirk, with orders to make an attempt to capture Calais on the way past. At full strength each of these divisions contained somewhat over 15,000 men and at least 300 tanks, although on 23 May General Kleist, the commander of the armoured spearhead of the German attack would report that half of his tanks were out of action. Even so, the British and French at Calais would be outnumbered by at least three to one.

In 1940 the town of Calais was still contained within a line of bastions and ramparts. These had been modified after the Franco-Prussian War, but by 1940 this work was over sixty years old. Nicholson soon realised that he would be unable to hold this outer perimeter for long. He decided to make his main stand on an inner perimeter, which covered the northern part of Calais, including the old town, the docks and the citadel. This was a shorter line, and much of it was protected by water lines, in the canals that run through Calais and in the docks themselves.

22 May

The first elements of Calais Force, the Queen Victoria’s Rifles and the Tank Battalion, arrived in the port on 22 May and began to prepare for action. At this point the British were concentrating on preparing to link up with the forces at Dunkirk, and the creation of new supply lines for the B.E.F.

23 May

On the morning of 23 May the British in Calais still did not realise quite how close the Germans actually were. Elements of I Panzer Division had been ordered to make an attempt to capture Calais on their way towards Dunkirk, and by mid-morning columns of German tanks were approaching from the south west. Early in the morning patrols from the Queen Victoria’s Rifles were sent out to find the Germans, but they were perhaps rather too successful, for none returned.

Later in the morning three squadrons of tanks under Lt.-Colonel Keller left Calais, heading for St. Omer, twenty miles to the south east. At Guines, only five miles south of Calais, they ran into the German columns, advancing east from Marquise, and a short battle took place. Although the British tanks eventually retreated north to Coquelles, south west of Calais, this first German attack had been repulsed. I Panzer Division moved on, leaving X Panzer Division to deal with the defenders of Calais.

The day also saw the troops from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles) and the Rifle Brigade land on the dunes east of Calais, and Brigadier Nicholson reach Coquelles, to prepare to make the attempt to open communications with Dunkirk.

24 May

That attempt began at 2 a.m. on 24 May. It was made by one squadron of tanks and a company from the Rifle Brigade, but soon ran into strong German forces on the road to Dunkirk. Brigadier Nicholson, who was accompanying the attack, was soon forced to call it off. The British pulled back into Calais, and prepared to defend the outer perimeter.

According to German sources, on 24 May the 10th Panzer Division concentrated on sealing off Calais, and did not carry out a systematic attack until the next day. This is almost certainly not how the defenders of Calais saw things. Fighting broke out all around the outer perimeter. By 6 p.m. the Germans had broken through the outer perimeter, and Brigadier Nicholson was forced to move his headquarters from the Boulevard Léon Gambetta to the Gare Maritime, on the waterfront.

Artillery support for the defenders was provided by destroyers of the Royal Navy, along with the Polish warship Burza. These ships made a valuable contribution to the defence of Calais, but the coast was heavy – HMS Wessex was sunk, while HMS Vimiera and the Burza were both damaged. Later in the day HMS Wolfhound and HMS Verity made a trip into Calais, carrying supplies of ammunition, and Vice Admiral J. F. Somerville.

Somerville was able to meet with Nicholson, who gave him a summary of the British position. His men were short of ammunition. He only had two anti-tank guns and two light anti-aircraft guns left. On his return to Britain, Somerville would make a broadcast describing this meeting.

Early in the day the navy began to prepare to evacuate the troops at Calais, but this move did not meet with Churchill’s approval. By now he was coming to the conclusion that the force at Calais would have to fight on for as long as possible, to win time for the B.E.F. to reach Dunkirk, although the final decision would not be made until the following day.

25 May

X Panzer Division made a systematic attack on the inner perimeter during 25 May. By now the inner perimeter was made up of a series of separate posts, which could provide supporting fire, but were otherwise isolated. Despite this the Riflemen were able to hold of the German attacks for the entire day. In mid-afternoon Brigadier Nicholson moved his headquarters for one final time, this time to the citadel, where on the following day he would be captured.

At 9pm, after dinner, Churchill, Eden and Ironside finally decided not to evacuate the troops at Calais. Churchill recorded feeling physically sick after making this decision, one of his first really hard decisions. The following signal was sent to Nicholson that night, although it is not certain that he ever received it.

Despite this final decision, Admiral Ramsey decided to make a small fleet available in case the circumstances changed again. On the night of 25-26 May a flotilla of small ships made their way into the harbour, rescuing the wounded and the survivors of the Royal Marine detachment sent to protect the naval demolition crews.

Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the B.E.F. Government has therefore decided you must continue to fight. Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not (repeat not) take place, and craft required for above purposes are to return to Dover. Verity and Windsorto cover Commander Mine-sweeping and his retirement.

26 May

The fighting at Calais lasted for most of 26 May. A German attack in the morning failed, although with low losses, but in the afternoon the defenders began to run short of ammunition. The Germans was able to bring their medium tanks into the battle, and by 4 pm had captured the harbour area. This was followed at 5 pm by a successful infantry assault on the citadel, which saw Brigadier Nicholson captured.

Even then the fighting did not end. British troops retreated into the Courgain, the fisherman’s quarter, and where they held on until 9 pm, when as darkness fell they were ordered to break up into small groups and make their own way out of the town. By now there was little chance, and the majority fell into German hands.

The last British ship to visit Calais was the yacht Gulzar. She entered the harbour just after midnight, remaining until 1.00am on 27 May. She eventually picked up a part of 50 men from the end of the breakwater, and then made her way back to safety in Britain.

Conclusion

At the time the defence of Calais was seen as having been of vital importance. Calais was the last defended location before the Gravelines position, the western flank of the Dunkirk beachhead. According to this view, if Calais had not been held for as long as it was, then there would have been nothing to stop the Germans from sweeping into Dunkirk while the BEF was still engaged around Lille.

Since the war the importance of the defence of Calais has been constantly downplayed. Instead Hitler’s “halt order” of 24 May has been blamed for the German failure at Dunkirk. This forbade the German tanks from crossing a line running south from Gravelines, and remained in place for two days, before being lifted on 26 May. In the most extreme arguments, the defence of Calais has no significance at all. The post-war writing of the German generals is the main source used to support this viewpoint. This is always a dangerous line to follow – the German generals were generally unreliable witnesses, more concerned with the defence of their own records than with historical accuracy – Rundstedt’s denial of any part in the halt order is a classic example of this.

This argument does not stand up to closer examination. The first clashes at Calais took place on 23 May, the day before the halt order, and distracted I Panzer Division from the attack on Dunkirk. On 24 and 25 May, the two days of the halt order, Calais came under constant attack by the Luftwaffe, reducing the resources available to attack at Dunkirk.


At the end of 25 May, when Churchill made the final decision not to evacuate Calais, his choice made perfect sense. Heavy fighting began at Calais on 24 May, the same day that the German tanks stopped. During 25 May the bulk of the BEF was still far from safety. The French position at Gravelines was increasing in strength, but the western flank of the corridor that the B.E.F. would have to use to reach Dunkirk was only defended by scattered units of the B.E.F. German troops had cross Hitler’s halt line at St Omer and Watten and were threatening the best road to Dunkirk. At least one German division was involved in the attack on Calais. If Churchill had pulled the British garrison out of Calais on the night of 25-26 May then that division would have been available on 26 May when Hitler lifted the halt order. Finally, one should always remember that none of the Allied leaders knew about the halt order (something that some authors do seem to forget).

Ultimately it is impossible to be sure what might have happened on 26 May if the German troops that were engaged at Calais had been free to take part in the attack on the Dunkirk position, but what we do know is that without them the Germans failed to break through the lines being formed at Gravelines while they were at their weakest, a failure that allowed over 300,000 Allied troops to escape from the German trap.

Edited by azyeoman

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An article by Jon Latimer appeared in the July 1998 issue of World War II on the Battle for Calais, and it's very interesting background on Robert's trio.

When the English Channel port of Boulogne fell to the Germans on May 25, 1940, the troops defending Calais a little to the north were the only line of defense between the German panzers and the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), desperately hoping for evacuation from Dunkirk.

At 9 p.m. that evening, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent the following communiqué to the British commander at Calais, Brigadier Claude Nicholson: 'Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the BEF. Government has therefore decided you must continue to fight. Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not (repeat not) take place, and craft required for above purpose are to return to Dover…. Churchill wrote later, One has to eat and drink in war, but I could not help feeling physically sick as we afterwards sat silently at the table. As he did so, the defenders clung grimly to their positions, fighting until the following evening when their heroic resistance finally petered out. If one episode might be said to have permitted the miracle of Dunkirk to succeed, then it is probably the defense of Calais.

The German forces that crossed the frontiers of the Netherlands, Belgium and France on May 10, 1940, so completely succeeded in their aim of cutting through the Allies' defenses that within 10 days they had reached the Channel coast and cut the BEF and a French army off from the rest of France. On May 19, the commander in chief of the BEF, General John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, warned the British War Office that it might have to consider evacuating the BEF. The same day, discussions began between the War Office and the Admiralty under the code name Dynamo about the possible but unlikely evacuation of a very large force in hazardous circumstances.

Following an enforced day of rest, the panzers were on the move again on May 22. Having reached the coast near St. Valéry two days earlier, they were now instructed to swing northeast toward the Channel ports. Resistance was patchy and disorganized, and by the evening they had reached the gates of both Boulogne and Calais. The next day, the 1st Panzer Division was moved from the gates of Calais to attack the British toward the line of the Aa Canal to the east, and the 10th Panzer Division was brought in to mop up the defenders of the famous old port. The 20th (Guards) Brigade was holed up in Boulogne, where the medieval ramparts proved more formidable than expected, while in Calais a defense was being hurriedly prepared.

Calais had been used extensively throughout the so-called Phoney War period as a transit camp for men on compassionate leave. On May 20, Colonel R.T. Holland was appointed base commandant and ordered to arrange for the evacuation of useless mouths. At the same time, the anti-aircraft defenses were to be greatly improved and the 6th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery (RA), the 172nd Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA, and the 1st and 2nd Searchlight batteries were moved up from Arras and deployed in a semicircle around the town. Over the next four days, Holland began the process of evacuation on steamers from the Gare Maritime, while combat troops arrived on incoming vessels. In the meantime, he located some 150 noncombatants in the town, and a platoon of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was detailed to guard a Royal Air Force (RAF) radar station. There were also 1 1/2 French infantry companies based at Fort Risban, to the west, with two field guns at the citadel and a number of other French troops manning the coastal defenses.

There was considerable confusion throughout the next few days, with contradictory orders and a lack of firm control, so that it was not clear to anybody if the Channel ports were even to be defended. At 10 p.m. on May 21, Lt. Col. Reginald Keller was taking his wife to dinner on the eve of his expected departure for France when he was called to the telephone. He was ordered to return immediately to his unit, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), for embarkation. After putting out calls in local cinemas and pubs, only one officer and 25 men were missing when the unit entrained for Dover at midnight. The tanks, however, were buried in the hold of the ship City of Christchurch in Southampton when the men left aboard Maid of Orleans at 11 the next morning. Arriving at the Gare Maritime at 1:15 p.m., they had no knowledge of their vehicles until they appeared out of the mist at 4 p.m. Had either ship been hit in the meantime, the battalion would have been useless.

Amid a mass of confusion and panic as refugees and noncombatants struggled to make good their escapes, Keller managed to locate Holland, who told him to get unloaded as soon as possible. At that point, Lt. Gen. Sir Douglas Brownrigg, adjutant general of the BEF, appeared on his way to be evacuated. He ordered Keller to move into harbor at the Forêt de Boulogne and get in touch with 20th (Guards) Brigade. Fortunately for Keller, he would be unable to comply with that order. Some three hours after the conversation, elements of the 1st Panzer Division were occupying the Forêt de Boulogne.

The unloading went slowly. Visits from the Luftwaffe were compounded by the discovery that all the weapons were packed in mineral jelly, and that many parts for weapons, vehicles and radios were missing. During the night, contradictory orders were received from Gort's headquarters and from Brownrigg (now safely ensconced in Dover). A patrol of light tanks was sent out at 6:30 a.m., May 23, but ran into trouble, and the unloading was still incomplete when Keller decided that he must try his best to follow Gort's instructions and move toward St. Omer in the opposite direction from Boulogne. At 2:15 p.m., his column moved out through a dense swarm of refugees. After a mile, they saw an armored column halted under some trees. Major Quentin Carpendale described what happened: I moved my troop across country to investigate and thought they must be French because I had never been led to believe that there was any chance of meeting Germans in force. We came upon the column which was stationary and resting and they were as surprised to see us as we them–there was only 20 yards between us when I realized they were Germans. An officer fired a revolver at my head as I was looking out of the turret.

Keller was forced to retire to the village of Coquelles. There he was told that Brigadier Claude Nicholson wanted to meet him. Get off the air, he replied. I'm trying to fight a battle! Around 5 p.m., the two met at the village, and Keller learned that Nicholson had been appointed commander of the Calais garrison, which included Keller's command. Known collectively as the 30th Brigade, formed the previous April for service in Norway, the infantry component was comprised of the 2nd Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), and the 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (RB), both of which were regular motor battalions, and the 1st Battalion, Queen Victoria's Rifles (QVR), which was a Territorial Army motorcycle battalion.

The latter was equipped and trained to act as divisional cavalry for the 1st London Motor Division, a home-defense formation. The commanding officer, Lt. Col. J.A.M. Ellison-McCartney, was the bursar of Queen Mary College of the University of London. Many of his best men were away attending officer training courses or had returned to industry. In their place, he had 200 militiamen, but the unit was hopelessly ill-equipped, even to undertake its intended role. A third of the men were armed only with pistols, for which they had received no training. Having received orders to move overseas, they were then told that they could not take their transport and arrived on the quayside at Calais in circumstances very similar to those of the 3rd Battalion, RTR, on the afternoon of May 23. Colonel Holland was astonished to find that a motorcycle battalion had been ordered to leave its transport in England; nevertheless, he directed them to block the six main roads into town, an enormous perimeter for less than 600 men with no transport.

The Green Jackets of the 1st Battalion, RB, under Lt. Col. Chandos Hoskyns, and the 2nd Battalion, KRRC, commanded by Lt. Col. Euan Miller, were much stronger and better equipped, as well as being prewar Regulars from regiments with outstanding traditions. The first to arrive on May 23 were the men of the 2nd Battalion. They had made a long and difficult journey from East Anglia via Southampton and were fortunate to be short only a few scout cars. Embarkation was a complete muddle as overzealous staff officers took over the proceedings, and the regimental officers were pushed to one side. Consequently, disembarkation was equally chaotic as men were separated from their units. Accompanying the battalions were the 229th Anti-Tank Battery, RA, and Brigadier Nicholson and his headquarters staff. However, nobody in either battalion was at all clear as to what was expected of them.

During the crossing, as they were subjected to air attacks and the sound of gunfire ashore grew louder and more distinct, Nicholson directed the first unit off to take the right side of the town. Thus, the 2nd Battalion, KRRC, marched by companies along the south edge of the Bassin des Chasses de l'Est, arriving at 2:30 p.m. to await their transport. The 1st Battalion, RB, took a position in the sandhills to the north. Major Alexander Allan wrote an account of their arrival: Broken glass from the station and hotel buildings littered the quay and platforms in which many bomb craters were visible besides overturned and bombed trucks on the lines. Troops were being loaded for the return journey to England. These troops were in the main non-combatant personnel, RAF ground staff, HQ clerks, etc., who suffered a severe battering from the Luftwaffe on their way to the coast, Allan wrote. They bore every sign of this and made a far from cheerful welcome to the theater of war.

With the personnel ashore only an hour before the vehicle ships arrived, Nicholson received an order from the War Office which could only be carried out with motor transport. The Rifle Brigade was to accompany a column of 10-ton trucks carrrying rations to Dunkirk for the BEF, which had been on half rations since the retreat to the coast began. The task was to be given priority over all other considerations. The only chance of success was to move immediately, but that was impossible.

While the 30th Brigade was disembarking and trying to get organized, the battle for Calais was commencing in earnest in the countryside beyond. Assault Group Krüger of the 1st Panzer Division was moving eastward, outside the southern perimeter, when it encountered the 3rd Battalion, RTR. After a brief fight, German light tanks advanced on the St. Omer canal, where they were held up for half an hour by C Troop of the 1st Searchlight Battery under 2nd Lt. R.J. Barr. Even when assaulted by heavier German tanks, the troop held on for three more hours before surrendering. The defense of Orphanage Farm, site of Air Defence Calais' headquarters, under Lt. Col. R.M. Goldney, became the focal point of the battle for the next five hours. Between 2 and 7 p.m., the defending force was subjected to fierce shelling and bombing until Goldney decided that the position was no longer tenable. With the farm in flames, the defenders retired into the town.

The panzers' remorseless advance had been hampered on its left flank by tanks and searchlights. The 1st Panzer Division's war diary for May 23 stated: Assault Group Krüger…stood at the gates of Calais when darkness fell. It was reported that the town was strongly held by the enemy and that a surprise attack was out of the question. The capture of Calais was handed over to 10th Panzer Division while 1st Panzer Division was ordered to push on towards Gravelines and Dunkirk. Had Calais fallen on the 23rd, there would have been nothing to stop the panzers from reaching Dunkirk before the defenses were organized. At the same time, the day's fight had bought a breathing space for Nicholson to organize his own defense.

Nicholson had received orders from Brownrigg to advance from Calais and attempt to relieve Boulogne. Had he made such a move with the 3rd Battalion, RTR, and his motor battalions, he would have been quickly overwhelmed, lacking any artillery support as he did. But Nicholson was a cool-headed professional and soon realized that Brownrigg's orders were impossible. He appreciated that the defense of Calais itself was the urgent task.

While the engagement of the afternoon was in progress, the 10th Panzer Division was ordered by General Heinz Guderian to take the town as soon as possible. The divisional commander, Maj. Gen. Ferdinand Schaal, initially planned a coup de main but was to be disappointed. His men had been in continuous and fast-moving action for almost two weeks and were exhausted and suffering from casualties, most recently from sustained RAF air attack. Throughout May 23 and 24, Schaal demanded heavy anti-aircraft protection, and Guderian was concerned himself. At 5 p.m. on May 24, some hours after the attack on the town had been launched, Guderian told Schaal: If there are heavy losses during the attack on Calais, it should only be continued with support from dive bombers and when heavy artillery can be brought up after the surrender of Boulogne. There must be no unnecessary losses.

As Schaal pondered his plan of attack, Nicholson was in Holland's cellar headquarters on the Boulevard Léon Gambetta. He had problems of his own, stemming from his large perimeter and limited resources. A senior French army officer had arrived from Dunkirk and was placed under Nicholson's command by the French Corps at Dunkirk. A number of coastal artillery emplacements were also taken over, although most were designed to fire out to sea and were of limited value. The fixed defenses of Calais had a long history and were begun in the 16th century when it was an English town. The remaining ramparts and bastions, even where they had been improved since the Franco­Prussian War of 1870, could not stop a determined force with modern artillery and air support, however. Nicholson knew it was pointless to put his regular troops in front of those ramparts, and after careful study of the street plan, he decided that the best hope lay in the canal lines within the town. He therefore issued orders that the outer perimeter was to be held and all roads, railroads and other approaches were to be blocked. As the battalion commanders left to organize their areas, the sound of firing could be heard drawing closer.

Throughout the night of May 23-24, it remained unclear whether the brigade would be evacuated. Conflicting reports were received, and by the early morning of the 24th, around 2,000 of the defenders of Boulogne had been evacuated. At 3 a.m., a message was received that the 30th Brigade would also be evacuated. The message arrived while Nicholson was with Hoskyns on the Dunkirk road preparing to escort the BEF rations. He duly ordered his staff to prepare an operation order to that effect, to be implemented the following night. The attempted ration run ended inevitably in failure, with tanks lost and the riflemen returning to Calais. It was now obvious that the town was surrounded.

By 7:30 a.m., it was widely known that the plan was to evacuate and, consequently, unloading at the Gare Maritime stopped, although only half of the 1st Battalion's transport had been brought ashore. With shells falling and her decks already covered with wounded, City of Canterbury departed at 8:30 a.m., taking the other half of the vital transport. Throughout the morning of the 24th, nonfighting men were released to join those aboard Kohistan, which left at noon. Nobody knew at the time thatKohistan was the last ship to do so.

After the incident on the Dunkirk road, Nicholson returned to the Boulevard Léon Gambetta, and the real battle for the town began. The Germans attacked at dawn, under cover of heavy and accurate mortar and artillery fire, moving against the south and southwest of the town and the advanced positions held by the 1st Battalion, QVR, who were pulled back to strengthen the 2nd Battalion, KRRC. The 10th Panzer Division was surprised by the strength of the resistance, but by 10:15 a.m. it had driven back Rifle Regiment 69 from Guines, captured the Pont de Coulogne and breached the outer perimeter. On the western side, Rifle Regiment 86 took Coquelles and directed shellfire onto the harbor, Oyez farm and Fort Nieulay–the latter a critical position in the next few hours.

Many French and Belgian soldiers were sheltering in cellars and other havens and took no part in the fighting. Others were to play important roles, particularly manning the fixed defenses. French naval tugs were operating, and many personnel had already embarked when Capitaine de FrégateCarlos de Lambertye asked for volunteers to man his forts. Those Volunteers of Calais marched back to occupy the crucial Bastion 11. That evening, about 100 more occupied Bastion 12, and in all, some 800 played a part in defending the honor of France–while the remainder waited in the cellars for the town to fall.

Captain A.N.L. Munby of 1st Battalion, QVR, was ordered to block the road to Boulogne, now open after the retirement of 3rd Battalion, RTR. His 59 men joined a French contingent of around 40 in Fort Nieulay, which they held under heavy fire until 4:30 p.m. on May 24. The Germans bypassed the fort and launched fierce attacks against the Allied center all day. There, the line was held by 2nd Battalion, KRRC, which destroyed two light tanks and drove the others off.

With the departure of Kohistan, Colonel Holland attempted to get as much support together as possible from the ranks of the largely unarmed rabble crowding the docks. Second Lieutenant Airey Neave from a searchlight unit was sent to support B Company, 2nd Battalion, KRRC. The commanding officer, Major J.S. Poole, was a veteran of World War I. I am afraid they may break through, said Poole, surprising Neave with the anxiety in his voice. Get your people in the houses either side of the bridge. You must fight like bloody hell.

Nicholson's plans for withdrawal to the inner perimeter of Calais involved the 2nd Battalion, KRRC, the 1st Battalion, QVR, and the searchlight units that were most heavily engaged that day. He knew he must hold out as long as possible but still expected to be evacuated. He hoped to keep 1st Battalion, RB, in reserve to cover evacuation from the Gare Maritime. By 6 p.m., he had completed his plans, and 1st Battalion, QVR, was pulled back to a cellulose factory to act as a reserve for 2nd Battalion, KRRC. The Germans did not interfere. That evening, Nicholson retired his own headquarters to the Gare Maritime and later to the citadel to form a combined headquarters with the senior French officer, a Commandant Le Tellier. During the night, Nicholson received incorrect reports of relief, which raised false hopes.

Schaal had limited his attacks during the 24th to probing the outer perimeter. Before commencing major attacks the following morning, he sent his panzers to join those of the 1st Panzer Division east of the town, now halted at Gravelines to prevent the escape of any troops from Calais while preparing for a major assault with his infantry. He was confident of a speedy conclusion but did not follow up the British retirement during the night.

Throughout the 25th, the Germans mounted sustained attacks supported by artillery and dive bombers. They made little headway, however, and Nicholson twice refused to surrender. British patrols in the area of Boulevard Léon Gambetta engaged the approaching Germans, but by 8 a.m. the swastika was flying above the Hôtel de Ville. Land-line communications with London were cut, and Nicholson now had to rely on wireless. Some of the Germans thought the battle over, which slowed the attack.

The Germans sent the mayor of the town as a delegate to request surrender. Surrender? said Nicholson. If the Germans want Calais, they will have to fight for it. When the mayor failed to return, Schaal sent another envoy. The reply was recorded in the German war diary. The answer is no as it is the British Army's duty to fight as well as the German's. After a lull, Schaal ordered the battle renewed and the citadel destroyed. That was easier said than done. Built to withstand the most devastating bombardments, it still stands today despite the worst attentions of the RAF in 1944.

At 2 p.m., with the battle intensifying, Nicholson received a message from British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. Defense of Calais to the utmost is of the highest importance to our country as symbolizing our continued co-operation with France. That was the first indication that evacuation might not actually happen. As the bitter street fighting continued, British casualties were mounting inexorably. Unfortunately, a plan to launch a counterattack, using some tanks of the 3rd Battalion, RTR, moving to the southeast, disorganized the 1st Battalion, RB, as the pressure mounted. At 3:30 p.m., Colonel Hoskyns was mortally wounded. The defenders never managed to recover their balance, although they continued to fight on doggedly.

After a renewed bombardment, the Germans began to advance again at 7 p.m., this time closely supported by tanks recalled from Guines to the east. Despite severe casualties, the 2nd Battalion, KRRC, managed to stem the advance. As darkness approached, the bitter fighting died down. The staff of the 1st Panzer Division announced, The attack on the Old Town has been held back. The enemy fights in a most tough and ferocious manner. Schaal decided to call off the attack at 9:45 that evening and asked Guderian for further fire support. The Germans were unaware that the defenders were exhausted and desperately short of ammunition. By midnight, except for the fires burning around the Place des Armes, all was quiet. The battalions faced the morning with about 250 men each, with no tank, anti-tank or artillery support, but still undefeated.

On the morning of May 26, supported by Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers and precise mortar fire, the Germans came on once more. Steadily the British were driven back, and the French at Fort Risban finally raised a white flag. The defense clung tenaciously to some positions, fighting to the last man. Finally, at 11 a.m., Bastion 11 was forced to surrender with barely a man unwounded. The defense at last began to collapse. Soldiers were rounded up in small groups, and the citadel finally succumbed at 3 p.m. The final surrender came at Oyez farm where B Company, 1st Battalion, QVR, had held out since the beginning.

For most of the defenders, it was the beginning of five years in captivity. Nicholson died in 1943. Airey Neave became the first man to escape from the notorious Colditz Castle in 1942. He later served as a member of Parliament until his assassination by the Irish National Liberation Army in a bomb attack in 1979.

The defense of Calais is a story of determination against enormous odds that, according to important German sources, contributed to the successful evacuation at Dunkirk. Three hours after the fall of the citadel, the Admiralty announced that Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk miracle, was about to begin.

Edited by azyeoman

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Photos of Calais in 1940. Second one is of the Citadel, a key defensive area in the battle, and the third is a view of the fisherman's quarter of Calais, the Courgain, the site of the last fighting during the afternoon of 26 May 1940. The last photo is of some very unhappy PoWs marching off to years of captivity.

Another site with a good article on the Battle for France, 1940. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-NWE-Flanders/UK-NWE-Flanders-10.html

Edited by azyeoman

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This diary is being written on behalf of Percy William Frederick Reeves 4858025, a Bombardier in the 1st Search Light Regiment.
The 1st Battery was formed at Rhyl in 1940. Training was not finished when we were shipped out to relieve Royal Engineers at St Omer. We went on to Lille operating Search Light defence.
The training was finished on the 12th May; NCO's were made up from selected people and we were to leave for England in June 1940. I was promoted to Sargeant on the 1st June 1940 and came back to England for three weeks leave, returning to Fenam Barracks, in Newcastle, to be brought up to date on weapons etc.
The 1st and 2nd S/L Battery formed the 1st S/L Regiment (Colonel Goldney C.O.). The 1st S/L regiment had been the AA S/L defence for Lille until the German breakthrough in the Ardennes. We then drove into Belgium. La Basse formed the front-line as part of the "rough front-line". One day later we were ordered to Calais to form AA S/L defence. Two days after arrival (May 23rd, 1940) we were hurried into my lorry, at about 1.30 p.m., to deal with a "cornered German tank." we had no equipment as it was still packed up in our kit bags; so greatcoat and 80 rounds in cotton Bandolier formed our kit, along with my Bren gun plus anti-tank rifle. In all, about 50 men went to Les Attaques where we engaged a German armoured troup carrier. Finding volley-fire at the machine-gun vent made them recoil rather quickly (with shouts of injuries), we were then visited by a light spotting plane which went round and round just out of range. Some 45 minutes later German medium tanks were seen approaching. Shell fire then made 2nd lieutenant R.J.Barr ( C. Troop Commander) order "everyman for himself" and "make for Dunkirk."
We were surrounded by tanks and Panzer Grenadiers and were rounded-up from our hiding places. "for you the war is over" a German Captain and Sargeant greeted us. But they were very "nice" about it. I replied "perhaps" to his message. We then went to a collecting point, with no raised arms.
After a walk of three weeks through France and Belgium, eating dog biscuits and water from roadside pools, we reached Trier, in Germany. Then three days train journey to Poland. I was a prisoner in Shublin (21b) Prisoner of War camp. It was five years later, almost to the day, that we returned to England.
The above recollections can be read in Airey Neave's book (The Flames of Calais) from pages 42 to 47.
The services of The 1st/2nd S/L Regiment, together with other very-poorly equipped soldiers, caused such skirmishing as to make the German forces stop and consider their position. This gave the Rifle Brigade and The Queen Victoria Rifles time to make a fight lasting for four days. Much has been documented about the efforts of the soldiers who held back the German advance for such a long time with such minimal armaments; giving time to evacuate Dunkirk.

Decorations were given to
2nd lieutenant Barr - Military Cross
TSM Coppack - Military Medal.
All the 1st Search Light Battery were 1st and 2nd Militia officered by TA. All NCO's were also TA.

The above was written by Simon Page on behalf of P.W.F. Reeves for the BBC WW2 People's War in 2004.

Edited by azyeoman

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1 Searchlight Regiment RA

Locations

Jan 40 Formed from 1AA Bn RE

Jan 40 BEF France

Jun 40 45 & 64 AA Brigades Cardiff/Swansea, UK

Feb 45 2 Army NW Europe

Batteries Sep 39 1, 2, 3, 4 Equipment May 40 Guy FBAX S/L Lorrys

For general info on "skylighters", please see http://www.skylighters.org/howalightworks/

The photo shows a captured Guy FBAX lorry, another one and a WWII search light.

Edited by azyeoman

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A newly acquired group for the collection of another man captured at Calais.

Pair to Rfmn John Williams consisting of a 1939-45 Star and War Medal. Both are unnamed as issued and mounted as worn. Mounted for display along with cap badges of the units he served with (Q.V.R., R.A.O.C., R.A.M.C., R.A. and R.E.)

Along with three other mounted commemorative medals - the National Service Medal, Dunkirk Medal 1940, and a Polish Auschwitz Cross (I'm not sure if he is actually "entitled" to the Polish cross, but Thorn was in Poland) and a autographed copy of the book "For You, The War Is Over" by the actor/author Sam Kydd who was also taken prisoner with the Q.V.R. at Calais and in which he describes the battle and his subsequent captivity. Also included are two family photographs and two of the recipient in uniform - one wearing the Q.V.R. badge and with a R.A. colleague. His Certificate of Service showing that he was discharged from the R.E. (T.A.) on 23/11/52; and his original Soldier's Service and Pay Book giving details are included. All to 6848378 Rfmn. John William Hill Q.V.R. Williams was born on 30/10/17 and was a barman before enlisting on 18/1/40. He served in France with the 1st Bn. Q.V.R. and was taken prisoner in the epic Battle of Calais. He was repatriated because of ill health on 16/1/43 and was in hospital for ten months before being passed as fit for limited service; he was with the R.A.O.C. and R.A.M.C 1944-46 and with the R.A. 1948 and the R.E. from 1948-52.

At the outbreak of World War II, 1/QVR and 2/QVR were formally made part of the KRRC, becoming the 7th and 8th KRRC Battalions respectively. The 7th KRRC (1st Queen Victoria's Rifles) were designated a motorcycle reconnaissance battalion and armed with revolvers instead of rifles. As part of 30th Infantry Brigade, they were hurriedly sent across the English Channel, but due to an error, their motorcycles and sidecars were left in England. They fought in the desperate operation at Calais between 23 and 26 May 1940, which bought valuable time for the main Battle of Dunkirk. All were either killed or captured and the battalion had to be reconstituted from scratch.

Edited by azyeoman

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A fellow QVR POW's story.

My story about Dunkirk is somewhat different to the sad story of the men on the beaches, but it does have a bearing on the events at the time.
I joined the Territorial army in 1937 aged 18. I signed up with the REME at Southall in the Searchlight Battalion. I transferred to the Queen Victoria Rifles in Davies Street West London after about a year, as the Searchlights didn’t interest me enough. When war was declared I was at our annual camp and was therefor immediately retained. 
I was sent to do guard duty in Oxford St London for about two weeks and from there was sent to Paddock Wood, Kent for further training.
On the 20/5/40 we were dragged from our beds at about midnight and told to entrain for Dover. On arrival at Dover we boarded a passenger ferry and were shipped to Calais arriving the same day. 
We were ordered into the town to defensive positions. We had been sent to Calais to act as/create a diversion to draw some German fire away from the BEF who were retreating to Dunkirk.
On the 26/5/1940, after several days of fighting, my company surrendered to the Germans on the beach (to where we had been pushed back). To my knowledge there was no attempt to evacuate troops from Calais. 
Eventually, with the rest of the Regiment and other units, we were marched into Germany, we were then put in cattle trucks and taken to Stalag 8B (Lamsdorf) in Poland. This journey took about 5 weeks! Once at Lamsdorf most of my war was spent on working parties in the Sosnovitch area working on drainage, digging, laboring in iron foundries and coalmines and at a sawmill. Most of the Polish people I worked with were kind to me. 
My memories of POW life are of freezing temperatures, lack of food, and the delight of receiving Red Cross Parcels.
 Eventually in 1945 about 20 of us who were on a working party awoke to discover that out guards had fled during the night because of the advancing Russians, leaving us to our own devices. We decided to head towards the approaching gunfire and were met by the Russians.
 The Russians, once they were satisfied that we were British, fed us on food ransacked from local shops, and gave us as much vodka as we could drink.
The following day the Russians put us on a truck and sent us to the Americans.
The next day we were flown in USAF Dakotas to Rheims and then in RAF Lancasters to an airport near Oxford.
After 2/3 days we were given civilian clothing and sent on leave.

As told by George Gooding, 18 March, 2004: BBC WW2 People’s War

More info:

http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/35620-private-diary-calais-may-1940-1st-battalion-queen-victorias-rifles-major-tl-timpson/

http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/35462-private-diary-calais-may-1940-colonel-rt-holland-ghq-adjutant-general/

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This photograph from the KRRC Museum archives features 1st Battalion, Queen Victoria’s Rifles (QVR), a TA regiment affiliated to The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, training as a motorcycle reconnaissance battalion in the New Forest near Beaulieu in 1939. 

The Battalion comprised three motorcycle companies, each armed with ten Bren guns and the men with pistols instead of rifles. At the outbreak of the war the Battalion was the divisional reconnaissance battalion of the 1st London Division responsible for Home Defense in and around London. In March 1940 the Battalion was warned for early service overseas and on 20 April became a part of the newly-formed 30 Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier Claude Nicholson. When the Brigade was sent to defend Calais on 22 May 1940, it deployed without its motorcycles and most of its other equipment. After a tenacious fight, nearly all the 550 members of the Battalion were killed, wounded or taken prisoner when the troops defending the town were forced to surrender to the Germans on 26 May.

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Fantastic additions to the collection!

I am busy with some research on an escapee from Tobruk, a great group will post soon.

Regards

Brian

Thanks Brian, I am looking forward to seeing what you post. As for these early PoW groups, the more I read about what happened in May 1940, the more amazed I am at what these men whose stories we're trying to keep alive went through.

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What a fantastic thread this really is.

Well written and a load of historical information.

Thanks for starting up this thread.

Best regards

Eric-Jan

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