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POWCollector

My Prisoner of War Collection

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Hi Rob

I asked because the Efficiency Medal to South Africans was often awarded to men off active service who stayed on in "Q" Services.  When it is named to the regiment it suggests pre-war and wartime service in the regiment to bring up the requisite number of years served for the award.  They are "nicer" medals to at least some collectors.

Regards

Brett

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Interesting reading Brett, many thanks! I know an unfortunately small amount about South African medals so it's good to get some info on the Territorial LSGC. I'm assuming that he qualified for it in 1943/1944 as war service was considered 'double time' for the lsgc so he would have qualified whilst a POW. It's 75 years ago to the day that Sgt G G Law was captured at Sidi Rezegh! How interesting that a 21 year old collector from the UK has his medals in his collection all these years after he was captured!

Hope you are well,

Rob

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Rob

Your records of men such as Sgt Law are their memorials that will hopefully stay with their medals for ages to come. The fact that you are only 21 is very encouraging and I hope that you will continue your good work for a very long time.

Your age reminded me that I recently assisted a collector who is not fluent in English to write up the record of a SAAF pilot KiA in North Africa in 1941 when he was only your age..  His medals, Log Book, photographs and other papers  had been stored away unlooked at for many years.  He had just completed his training when he was posted to Egypt to fly Hurricanes, and after a month or two of uneventful sorties he wrote in a letter about how eager he was to get into a real dog fight.  He had his wish fulfilled a week later when his first dog fight also turned out to be his last.  His only relatives were his father and a sister, both now long gone, and, except for his name on memorials in Egypt and South Africa, he was forgotten  His name is now know to several local people and soon many more will be able to read about his short life.

Regards

Brett

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Brett,

A very interesting and a sad story regarding his keenness to see action and how it turned out to be his first and last dogfight! 

Ive have just noticed on Findmypast, (a great site which i recommend using!), that in the last few days they have uploaded a file stating that Sgt G G Law was indeed interviewed in Switzerland about his escape from Italy so i have asked my researcher at the archives to have another look and try to find it! It states also that he was interviewed on the 23rd of November 1943, two years after his capture! Hopefully if the file can be found, it will be an interesting one!

Rob 

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Rob, those are some amazing groups, as normal!  I dont know how you find these.  I wish the British would adopt a POW service medal.  

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Thanks very much Paul! I've been very lucky with the amount of pow debriefs I've been able to find for them and had a very good year of collecting! 

Yes it would be very nice if they did have an official POW medal like the United States do, especially if it was named, but sadly only the unofficial pow medal exists! (See final post on page 3) 

cheers again!

Rob

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I have just recieved the Escape to Switzerland report for Sgt G G Law of the 3rd Transvaal Scottish who was captured at Sidi Rezegh on the 23rd of November 1941 and it has been a bit bitter sweet.

As i wrote on the original post, his service papers stated that his last camp was PG52 Chiavari and that it was from here that he made his way to Switzerland following the armistice but it turns out he was moved again to a different camp. Due to the rarity of escapers from Chiavari, i did pay a fairly decent amount for the group but the actual story is pretty good so i think i have still done alright on the purchase! Here is the new information i have discovered...

Sgt G G Law was captured at Sidi Rezegh on the 23rd of November 1941. Under the brief circumstances of capture section of his report he stated that he was with his unit in the 5th S.A Brigade and was captured at when they were overrun by tanks. 

From the 26th of November to the 12th of December, he was held in Benghazi in one of the pow cages. From Benghazi, he was sent to Tarhuna and held there until the 26th of December. On the 29th of December 1941, he was held at the transit camp at Capua and was held there until the 4th of December 1942. From Capua, he was transferred to Chiavari and stayed there until the 18th of April 1943. Finally, he was transferred to PG 148 at Bussolengo. He was assigned to be the camp leader for sub camp 6 at Angiari. The sub camp was employed doing farm work.

His escape report follows like so;

"Just before 8/9/43, as camp leader of PG 148/6, i had sounded the Italian Commandant 2/lt Sandro Benetti with a view to bribing him to allow the whole camp of 50 to escape. We had offered 50 lire each. When we heard of the armistice, he released us immediately. At first, we all tried to head south but eight men were captured and so i approached this Italian and asked him if he could help us escape to Switzerland. This he did and organised the escape of 39 men."

On the next page, he goes on to give more detail;

"First i attempted to regain our own lines to the south and got as far as Bologna but finding it too risky i returned to the Angiari area, where i remained until i contacted the ex commandant of the camp PG 148/6 who helped me reach Switzerland. We travelled by train from Angiari to Mantova and stayed the night. Then we got the train to Milan and from there the train to Erba. From Erba we went on foot to Lake Como. We crossed Lake Como by rowing boat and walked to the frontier which we reached near Bruzzella on the 23rd of November 1943."

This is a very unusual escape to Switzerland as he initially spent some time trying to reach the allied lines, but returned to his camp and got the Commandant to pay for him and 38 others to get to freedom in Switzerland! I also am happy that before the armistice, he tried to bribe the Commandant to allow them to escape so he was already in the mindset of escape before the armistice! 

Even though it is not the outcome i had hoped for with the research for this group, its still a very interesting story and its nice to have the group to a camp leader who really did show initiative and managed to get 39/50 men to safety in Switzerland.

 

IMG_7159.JPG

 

 

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It's a most interesting story and one that should be told.   It may not be what you had hoped for,  but it's historically a very good story.   Congratulations on another excellent addition to your collection! 

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Thanks chaps!

I think he should have been M.I.D too but hey ho! Many people got somewhat short changing when it comes to being decorated for escape!

for example, a great number of the fifty murdered after the great escape should have been awarded MC's or DCM's for their escape records from before the great escape but as they were killed, all they were given was a posthumous M.I.D! 

Rob

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On 20/05/2016 at 02:16, POWCollector said:

Next up took some detective work but luckily enough, the name is unique enough so that I was successful in identifying this chap.

I saw this group on a dealer website for £100 including next day delivery and the combination was enough to spark my interest.

The group is: The 1939-45 star, Africa star, France and Germany star, War medal and QE2 Territorial Medal - the last named to 21002238 Sgt P.A.D Cartwright. I knew that this combination would indicate a birth after 1921 since he wasn't in the Territorials during the war since he got awarded the T.M post 1953. The group indicated to me that it was an Arnhem POW.

Peter A.D Cartwright was born in the second quarter of 1923 in Edmonton, Middlesex. 

Peter joined the General Service Corps and was probably sent to the Royal Artillery with service number 14242349 probably in mid 1942 and was sent out to North Africa.

After his time in North Africa, he transferred to the Army Air Corps (still trying to find out if he was a Para or Glider Pilot regiment) but he was taken prisoner at Arnhem and held at Stalag XI-B at Fallingbostel as PoW 117911.

After he was repatriated, he returned to civilian life but his QE2 territorial medal service number would indicate a pre 1950 enlistment. Probably around 1948-49.

Coincidentaly, Peter and his wife (Married in '41 probably just before leaving for Africa), had a son who was also P.A.D Cartwright who was born in 1949.

Peter most likely joined the Territorials to earn a bit more money due to starting a family.

I am trying to get hold of his POW debrief if it exists and I'm hoping above hope that it does as most Fallingbostel POW's that I've researched did fill out debriefs!

It is very nice to see a QE2 territorial medal to an Arnhem AAC pow and can't believe my luck to have found it! (For such a bargain!)

image.jpeg

Sorry about the poor quality photo!

Due to new documents being added to findmypast, I have discovered that P.A.D Cartwright was a member of the 11th battalion, the Parachute Regiment and was captured on the 20th of September 1944.

 

IMG_7233.JPG

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I find it amazing how these keep coming to you.  I have no doubts that POW groups are so very rare, yet you keep finding new sets. 

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7 hours ago, Paul R said:

I find it amazing how these keep coming to you.  I have no doubts that POW groups are so very rare, yet you keep finding new sets. 

Me too, both you and John just keep turning them up.

The above group has to be a very lucky find and just goes to show that dealers don't always do research. I recently bought a boxed group of 3 from a dealer to a man wounded in Normandy, Aug. 44. It had to be Falaise and after checking the diary I found he was wounded on a day his inf. Bn. attacked 3 Tigers. Good old FMP.

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Thanks very much guys! Yes, with quite a few of my groups, I have been fortunate that the dealer or seller did not do any research into the item so I was able to get them for a good price! 

That being said, I really do put the hours in finding groups, checking names against pow lists etc but I have been well rewarded for my efforts!

take care,

Rob

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I am very pleased to announce that I have been able to reunited Joseph George Penney's 1939-45 star to the Africa star I already had in the collection. 

A spot of luck on eBay and the seller was very happy to end the auction before anybody else bid to ensure I got the medals together again! 

Hopefully I will at some point in the future be able to find his other two medals and get the group back together again!

If you fancy a re-read on Joseph Penney, you can find my previous post on page 4 of this thread.

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IMG_7575.JPG

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Next up is another second world war pow group awarded to Ernest George Alfred Brown.

Ernest was born on the 18th of February 1918 and enlisted as Gunner in the 72nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (Part of the 50th Division, 8th army) on the 2nd of April 1940. At the time of enlistment, he was working as a Dairyman. He was living in North Kensington, London.

On the 1st of June 1942, he was wounded by shrapnel in the legs and captured when the Germans overran the regiment at Gazala. He was held in North Africa for two months before arriving at PG73 at Fossili di Capri in Northern Italy on the 2nd of August 1942.

Ernest stayed at Fossili di Carpi until the Italian capitulation but unlike many from the camp was unable to make good his escape and was re-captured by the Germans and was put on a train to Stalag 344 at Lamsdorf, Poland on the 19th of September 1943. He arrived at Lamsdorf on the 9th of October 1943.

After the POW camp was closed at Fossili di Carpi, the Germans turned it into a Concentration Camp.

Ernest was held in the main camp at Lamsdorf until the 16th of January when he was sent to the work camp E535 at Sosnowitz where he worked at a coal mine. He worked at Sosnowitz until the 18th of January 1945 when the working camp was evacuated away from the advancing Russians. He was liberated a few months later and was interviewed regarding his time as a prisoner on the 14th of May 1945.

The items i have are the 1939-45 star, Africa star (8th army bar missing) and War medal, along with Ernest's original POW ID tag from Lamsdorf.

I have found the account of a New Zealand soldier who worked alongside Ernest in the coal mine and here is his story regarding working, the evacuation and the liberation of the men of work camp E535.

"We travelled from Sosnoweic by tram to Miloweic Grube our camp was an old school. In this particular coalmine was mostly Poles with the German overseers, it was a mine that the Germans had taken from the Poles. Before the Germans took it over the Poles had flooded it. It was a smaller mine and not up to date like the Hohenzellern mine. The level I worked on in this mine was 900 feet below ground. They used many pit ponies and they were in a lovely condition and really well locked after, but just before we left the army commandeered them all and put in Ukraine ponies and they were in a shocking state. I looked through the stables and how well they looked after their horses. This particular mine was colder and wetter to work in.

  I worked in the main the maintenance section we didn’t have to work so hard some days but other had to do heavier work such as carrying big heavy pipes. Six men to carry 500 lb steel pipes up a grade of one and three feet and to carry them 400 yards. We had to carry 7 water pipes per shift. We were allowed 15 minutes in the middle of the shift for “fruh- stuk” (cup of tea of bite to eat).

  We did quite a lot of racketeering amongst the Poles in the way of tobacco we could buy a pound to a pound and a half for a chocolate, 7 kg of bread for a chocolate, a kg of bread was 2 ½ pounds. We could also buy 100 saccarhines for 10 cigarettes. The hardest part was to get these articles into the camp as we were searched. We could also buy 6 or 7 kgs of flour for a chocolate. For our Christmas dinner we brought a rabbit which cost us four chocolates. Chocolate was worth 100 marks before we left this camp. The guards at this camp were really a bad lot. I was in this camp for six months and in this time I received several letters and parcel.

On January 17th was the last day I worked in the coalmine on the 18th we didn’t work. On the 19th January 1945 at roll call the German Officer informed us that we would be leaving the camp at 2:30 that afternoon. We had to leave the camp on the account of the Russian advance and before leaving our Doctor drafted the men he considered couldn’t stand up to the marching and left them behind in the camp hospital, along with other patients already there including medical orderlies to be picked up by the Russians when they reached the camp. The German Officers also informed us that we could take anything we could carry in the way of blankets, clothing, and food. We were marched out the gates and counted onto the roads and marched to the Grube close by where some of our boys had already marched out earlier in the afternoon. The next day we went on to Bucthen about 15 kms away where we stayed the night, that being the last night we spent behind barbwire. When we did this march it was winter and extremely cold, snow covered the ground the best part of the time. One of the hardest things we found at the beginning of the march was the contrast from working under the ground for so long with everything so black, then having to march in the snow for weeks on end.                                                                                                                                 

 

 

The glare from the snow, made our eyes ache. From now on at night we camped in farm out building, some of the boys brought sleighs to carry their packs on. In the early parts of the march they kept us going for four or five hours without a stop, but after getting over the river Oder, they gave us two days’ march and one day’s rest and our Doctor persuaded the Germans to give us ten minutes’ rest every hour, during the day while marching.                                                                               

The first part of the march we didn’t get anything hot to drink and even had a job to get cold water as everything was frozen. If we carried any water in our army bottles it would be frozen in a very short time. On our rest days we used to get dry rations that had to be cooked, dried meat, peas, beans, and dried potatoes and only a little of each. We used to borrow a copper from the civilians on whose property we were camped so we could cook vegetables, and often had a lot of trouble borrowing a copper. Rations later became very scarce. On the night of the 10th of March 1945 special Red Cross trucks were sent to us prisoners of war on the march the name of the place being “Luck”, it averaged about 4 parcel per man also included cigarette, from then on parcels came at different times. If it hadn’t been for the Red Cross I don’t think many of us would have made the grade. Although at different times we were able to scrounge mangels, turnips, and potatoes unknown to the guards. By this time we were getting road weary, our boots were worse for wear.

  In March we were issued with a letter card to write home but no-one ever received the same, also we were issued with pamphlets asking us to fight with the Germans against the Russians, and everyone treated it as a joke. Whilst at the last camp we had two radios which we brought from the civilians with chocolate and smuggled into our camp, needless to say we had it well hidden. The Germans got suspicious and had thorough searches for the same and in the end we had let them find one (it being the dud of the two). The other radio was kept well concealed and just two or three got the news and wrote it out fully and read it out to us in our huts every evening round 8 o’clock. Our Doctor when leaving the camp took charge of the radio as his medical equipment was being carried by horse drawn wagon and when camping on the march. He always received the privilege of staying at a boarding house as he was a Medical Officer.

  Most of the places we stopped had electricity on so he got the radio pugged into a light socket and wrote out the news in brief and read it out to us in different cow sheds or on the road to us unbeknown to the guards. We considered it as good as a meal to us to hear the news. On the march we saw hundreds if not thousands of evacuees on the road mostly elderly men, woman and children, everybody seemed to be in a terrible state simply fleeting from the Russians. When passing through Czechoslovakia the woman and children were very kind to us they threw us biscuits, buns and bread knowing it was forbidden to do so. The German guards became very nasty at them doing so and we were issued with orders that if we stepped out of our column we would be shot. A day or two latter one of our boys was shot while picking up a piece of bread. During Easter we stayed at a big factory at Swarzenfeldt this was beside an important railway line. The station a little further on was bombed at different occasions so much so that they had to shift us. While we were still there we had to go on different occasions and help to fill up bomb craters and renew railway lines that the Allied planes had bombed. Nurenburg wasn’t far away and we could see our planes bombing every day. We then moved away and in the next few days crossed the Blue Danube, the weather was becoming a little warmer by this time.

  As we were coming up to the bridge across the Danube the air raid sirens were going and we had to halt, it was some time before permission was given for us to cross. The bridge was a two-way railway bridge with a footpath only and we had to go across in single file, the name of the town we were coming to was called Regensbourg. The bridge was fairly high and had a swift flow river. As I was about the middle of the bridge, the first wave of American bombers came over luckily their job was to bomb the railway station a few miles away. We found out later that there was an ammunition train in the station, also an ammunition factory close by. The next wave of planes that came over was to bomb the bridge and they sure made a job of it, resulting in a lot our boys being killed or badly wounded. By the time I was off the bridge just a matter of a few chains, the bombing and the strafing was nerve wracking and we really thought we were all going to get cleaned up. We had been on the road since 5 o’clock that morning, the raid took place at 4:30pm. Some of the German guards were also killed and wounded, after everything was over the guards rounded us up and marched over to some trees until nightfall, they then marched us all night. The Germans idea was to get us away from the town for fear of us being bombed again that night. Marching us through back roads and forests, from then on we slept during the day and marched at night on account of the bombing of our own planes.

  While on the march we saw them making road blocks all the way along to try to stop the oncoming armies. Several of my mates couldn’t make the grade and fell out and were shot by the S.S. in the next day or two. It was very difficult from then on to get bread as all the bakeries were getting bombed. From then on any buildings that we stayed in we wrote P.O.W. on the roof, eventually we landed up in a river bed where the Germans more or less handed us over to the Red Cross as they were unable to take us any further or to feed us. We walked on average of 12 to 15 miles a day. Before going into camp everyone was checked off on a nominal roll. This camp was between the main river and a creek, no fences but we were still guarded, two later on a Sunday we were released.

  

                              LIBERATION

 

 

  In the morning the S.S. troops started digging in all around us and we started to get concerned because if the Germans Started to fire on the Americans they would open fire and then fire right into the middle of us, but by midday they were well away. The houses in the villages close by all had white flags flying by then. Some of our boys were out watching for the first sight of the Americans tanks to come over a hill some distance away and to direct them to our camp. It was now 6 o’clock in the evening two tanks and two jeeps drove up to us, and we all cheered them but it soon died down and everyone seemed to be overcome with joy as it all seemed too good to be true. There was between 3000 and 4000 American, Russians, and Colonial troops in this camp. They told us that they had already that day released two similar camps. They took photos of us and wirelessed back to their artillery where we were situated, they moved off and left us. The first thing we did then was to unarm the guard and make prisoners of them. That same night we experienced a lot of shelling and for several nights after. Then next day the Yanks told us that everything around belonged to us and just help ourselves in the way of food which we did as these were the people who had kept us from it for so long. We took fowls, geese eggs young pigs, and had some royal meals, but “OH! WEREN’T WE SICK”. There was a biscuit factory close by which we did over and helped ourselves to sugar, biscuits, margarine, jam, condensed milk etc., in a big way. We also commandeered motorbikes, motorcars, pushbikes, hacks, and wheelbarrows to do our pilfering with. The name of the place we were camped in was” Landshut” Aerodrome which was situated in Bavaria, not a great distance from Munich. This all happened on the 29th April 1945, we lived on the fat of the land, and Red Cross parcels.

  A few days later we had heavy rain which held up the planes landing to take us away so while we were waiting our Doctor advised us to move into the villages boarding bordering the drome and to stay there till they could take us away. We could not stay in the riverbed camp any longer on account of so many fowl’s heads, feathers, and where chaps had been sick after eating so much rich food. We were all formed into groups of 28 men that many making a plane load. The day before leaving “Landshut” we were all deloused just a simple operation of pumping powder up our sleeves and down our necks and trousers. The Americans were very kind to us while we were there and assisted us in any way they could. On the morning of the 11th may the plane came in to take our lot away making a really wonderful sight we will never forget, we left in an American troop carrier and flew to Rhiems, it was a beautiful sunny morning, they didn’t fly very high and we had a good view of the country we passed over, it was really a good trip. When we arrived at Rhiems there were Army trucks waiting to take us to another drome about an hours drive away, I have since forgotten the name of it; we received a meal at the canteen and never will forget it, there were German P.O.W.s serving in the canteen. They had been captured some three or four months previously in France. We were then puts in groups of 24 to be put into Lancaster Bombers. The first thing they gave us was some wadding to put in our ears and a little box of boiled lollies to keep us from being sick also a “Mae West” to put on as we were going to fly over the channel. They particularly asked to sit still in the plane; we did not have such a good view in this plane as there were no windows like the troop carrier previously, although some of us near the back could see through the rear gunner’s cockpit. It turned out to be quite a good trip; we arrived at a drome called Tangmere in the South of England. The WAAFs were out to meet every plane and assisted us prisoners out of the plane and helped us with our small kits such as they were. We then got into Army trucks and were driven over to the reception hall, but before going into the hall we were again deloused as previously mention. We all thought how nice and kind these girls were to us, in the way they looked after us and entertained us. After tea they put on pictures and supper also a packet of sandwiches and two oranges to eat on the train as our train didn’t leave until 2 a.m. We got on the train at Barnham to go to Margate a journey of five hours. When we arrived at Margate we had breakfast, first thing we did after breakfast we qued for our mail and free cable which could be sent home to our relatives. There were ten letters waiting for me. We were all then medically examined, reclothed, inoculated, and paid in readiness to go on leave on the 23rd of May. Our impressions of the English people as a whole were really wonderful. 

  In conclusion I must pay high tribute to the Red Cross. If it had not been for this wonderful organisation 90 % of us would not be here today. I owe my very life to the Red Cross."

 

A really fascinating insight to life on the forced march and the journey the men made after being freed!

                            

IMG_7578.JPG

Edited by POWCollector

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Next up is an incredibly rare grouping which i am amazed to have found! This should be a rather long post so i hope you enjoy it!

Denis George Wicksteed was born on the 30th of January 1919 in Shropshire, England. He served with the Merchant Navy as R.241842 3rd Officer D G Wicksteed.

Denis served in the Atlantic and also in the North African theatre. He was serving on the Motor Vessel Dagomba. The Ship was carrying produce (Palm Oil, Timber and Tin Oil) and its route was from Forcados, Nigeria, to Takoradi, Ghana, to Trinidad and finally onto Liverpool. Unfortunately, the ship never made it to Trinidad.

On the 3rd of November 1942, MV Dagomba was torpedoed 500 nautical miles South West of Dakar by the Italian Submarine 'Ammiraglio Cagni' captained by Carlo Liannazza.

The report made by D G Wicksteed is incredibly detailed but far too long to fully write up (23 pages!!!) so i will give full details of the sinking, some interesting parts of the time at sea, and then the time as a prisoner of war. 

"At 16:50 hours, November 3rd 1942, the Dagomba was struck on the starboard side by two torpedoes. One hit forward of the forward engine-room bulkhead and, the other exploded the palm oil tanks astern of the after engine-room bulkhead. Immediately the vessel took a heavy list to starboard and commenced sinking rapidly. The accommodation in the starboard alleyway immediately flooded out and the second officer, Mr R M Mail, and i were washed out of our rooms into the alleyway. Together we ran up onto the boat deck, and found that the only two lifeboats still in tact were Nos. 2 and 4 on the port-side. No.1 was completely destroyed and No.3 was badly damaged. All the rafts were damaged and two were blown into the water by the explosion.

The second officer and myself then took charge of No.4 boat and with the assistance of A.B's Owen and Flett commenced getting the boat away.

The gripes were slipped without any trouble, but when we found that owing to the heavy starboard list, the boat was leaning heavily on its boom and the after falls were jammed. At this point the second radio officer, Mr Williams, ran up with the portable Wireless Transmitter and receiver and together we tried to push the boom off, but found it too heavy. Mr Mail then left the forward fall which he had been tending, to one of the A.B's and bracing himself against the scupper edge, held the boom off whilst A.B Owen lowered away forward and I lowered away the after fall.

When the boat was level with the bulwarks, all the crew who were mustered got inside and then seeing that Dagomba was going, we dropped the boat the last 4 or 5 feet into the water and then we jumped after her. The boat swung well clear and the painter was immediately cut by Hyde (RN Gunner) and i swam to her, clambered in and took the tiller.

The total time between the explosions and the boat getting clear was about two minutes and a few minutes later, the Dagomba finally disappeared, the suction being amazingly slight.

At once we got the oars out and commenced picking up the people in the water. We picked up Mr Grainger (Second Engineer), Mr Christie (Chief Steward), A.B Court and Mr Mail (Second officer) and then salvaged a tank of water from one of the damaged rafts. 

Mr Mail had obviously hurt himself badly whilst holding the boom clear and had been hit whilst in the water by a log which had been shooting through the gap in No.2 hold where one of the Torpedoes had exploded, to the surface of the water. He was very badly injured, as was Peter Okorie, the stewards boy, so i decided to go alongside the Submarine which had surfaced to request medical attention.

The submarine was an Italian of some 1300 tonnes. All of her paintwork was unstained, and she had a realistic wolfs head on the starboard side of the conning tower. The Italians threw us a line and after some trouble, owing to the swell, we managed to get alongside.

The First Lieutenant, who spoke English well, said that he could give us no medical attention as they had no doctor, but he handed over two bottles of Cognac, two water barrels, some biscuits, some cigarettes and matches. I thought that we had lost the boats compass so i asked him if he could spare one. After some delay, he found one and gave it to me.The Italians filmed this all, doubtless for propaganda reasons.

We spent 45 minutes alongside the submarine, and then as it was growing dark we left him and moved over to the other boat, which was lying close by. We then checked over numbers and found that three of the natives were missing - numbers of the galley staff who had been working in the starboard alleyway, outside the galley, at the time of the explosion. The chief officers boat, which was the smaller of the two had 22 men in it and i had 26 in mine.

Mr R M Mail, the Second Officer, died in the boat of the 4th of November and was buried at sea later that day. 

By the time we had cleared the submarine and been alongside No.2 boat, it was rapidly getting darker so we stopped the mast, hoisted the sails and commenced to steer the course agreed. We last saw the other boat about 300 yards astern, also sailing.

The tiller snapped as soon as we started sailing so i had to improvise one with a piece of bottom board until the morning.

All hands were very wet and cold during, so i issued a small tot of cognac all round. Many of the crew were very sick from the Palm Oil which they had swallowed whilst in the water and altogether it was a very miserable sight. The second officer (Mr Mail) was groaning badly and passing up portions of his intestines, but all we could do was to keep him warm and moisten his lips with Cognac.

November 4th

Mr Mail died just after midnight but i decided to leave him for a few hours and bury him at sea just before dawn. At 05:00 hours, i burned one red flare and the lookout  reported and answering flare from the other boat from the south. We then lowered Mr Mails body into the water and i think most of us said a few quiet prayers as a silent tribute to a very gallant man. Just before dawn, we lit another red flare but received no answer.

I decided to make for the West African coast between Cape Palmas and Freetown, as the breeze was blowing steadily S.S.E and the Guinea current would help. The Radio Officer transmitted a message which read as follows - 'S.O.S. S.O.S. S.O.S. de GNOX torpedoed. Two lifeboats steering N.E speed 2.5 knots approx. Please send immediate aid'.

Okorie, the Nigerian Steward, was badly lacerated from the explosions and was light headed but the rest of the crew in the boat were unhurt. When the heat of the sun dried their clothing and warmed them up, they were all in good spirits. The sun was very hot towards midday so headgear was improvised from spare canvas in the boat. At night we held a sing-song, which was ably led by L McGarth, an R.A Gunner, whose good spirits and cheerfulness were irrepressible during the whole voyage.

By this time, all hands had recovered from the shock and morale was really good. The boat was sailing easily and well and the helmsmen were all becoming quite expert at their job.

November 8th

At 17:30 hours, we were hit by a severe squall. For the next 5 hours, a severe storm raged and we lay to the sea anchor all night. On three occasions, the boat nearly capsized, her lee gunwale being completely submerged and we had to do a great deal of fast pumping with the semi rotary to keep the boat clear of water.

November 9th

By 02:00 hours, the wind had died down a lot and by 05:00 hours, there was only a gentle breeze. The sun was very hot towards noon and the breeze dropped until a flat calm prevailed. We were now being constantly followed by three sharks.

November 11th

At 13:00 hours, smoke was sighted on the horizon by Mr James. all the oars were immediately manned and i headed up for the bearing of the smoke which only appeared at intervals. A W/T message was immediately transmitted and i ignited one smoke float. At 13:30 hours i fired out another smoke float and i could now make out a convoy in the distance. Mr Williams, Second Radio Officer, was continuously flashing with his mirror.

We observed the escorting warship detach from the convoy and proceed slowly towards us. We naturally assumed that the convoy was British, and so were in no ways perturbed to see the French flag flying on the sloop - assuming she was a Free French Ship. The rest of the convoy were now out of sight.

We pulled alongside the warship which was the Vichy 'Aviso Annamite' and i climbed her Jacob's Ladder and went up the Captain to thank him. I held out my hand and commenced to thank him but he rapped out in French 'Impossible' and told his First Lieutenant to explain the circumstances. I then had my first news of the North African affair and was told that this was a French man of war under the orders of the Vichy Government and that we were now Prisoners of War.

I protested that we were merchant seamen, and therefore civilians, but merely received a shrug of the shoulders - a method of avoiding the issue with which i was to become well acquainted in the near future.

Our boat was put aboard one of the ships from the convoy, SS. Ville D' Oran. We were searched and then put in the Capstan Flat under heavy guard. We were given a small quantity of drinking water, but we were not allowed to wash. Okorie was put in the sick bay and the badly sunburned cases were given some treatment. 

The capstan flat, our home for the next five days, was a room under the forcastle measuring about 15' by 13' with a large and extremely dirty capstan motor in the middle of the room. The whole 24 of us were kept in this place day and night. There was insufficient ventilation, several rats, and we ate and slept on the very dirty deck. In actual fact, there was not enough space for us to all lie down.

At 17:00 hours, they brought us some food. Rice and bits of meat cooked in peanut oil which was quite palatable. We had, however, to eat with our very dirty hands and were not allowed to wash them. Then the doctor came and dosed us with laxatives. The Captain then came down and made a speech which i translated, to the best of my ability, to the crew. He said that he would treat us to the best of his ability in which he would treat us as prisoners of war and with humanity. He then locked us in.

The deadlights were closed and there was no ventilation and the stench from the 24 unwashed men in that hot and confined space was dreadful. Soon the laxative began to do its work and one of the crew knocked on the door to request permission to use the W.C. He was roughly answered and shortly afterwards the guards jammed the door shut. Should anything have happened, we would have been caught like rats in a trap.

November 12th

At 07:00 the door was opened and those who had managed to hold out tried to get to the W.C. However, they would only allow us to go one at a time accompanied by two guards with revolvers - Some of the men were in something very nearly approaching agony by this point.

We were given two tins of sardines, bread and coffee for breakfast. The ratings gave us cigarettes and matches whilst the officers were not looking. The lower deck ratings and petty officers were very sympathetic throughout and kept us supplied with cigarettes and kept us up to date with the news but they were scared of being caught.

At 10:00, we were allowed out onto the forecastle head and 'Washed' in a tub of salt water. After this we were allowed half an hour of exercise before being sent back below.

I was interrogated by the First Lieutenant, but gave him no information except a list of names and the name of the owner.

We had a meal at 11:00 hours and again at 16:30 hours and then were once more locked in at 19:00 hours. I protested vigorously to the officer of the watch about the lack of air and he agreed to open the deadlights about half an inch and brought in a tub to use as a latrine. This took up some of our invaluable floor space but was a serious improvement on the previous night. 

November 13th

This day was very similar to the previous day but i was called to the sickbay by the Captain and Surgeon to go and see Okorie. He was obviously dying and did not speak and the surgeon explained that he had no drugs and nothing could be done.

November 14th

Peter Okorie died in the early hours of his day and at 09:00 we were drawn up onto the quarterdeck to hold a burial service. Four of our Nigerians acted as bearers and I conducted a short service. The ships officers and men were also drawn up on the quarter deck and a french bugler played the french equivalent of the last post. The colours were lowered and Peter Okorie's body was dropped over the stern into the sea.

November 16th

We arrived at Dakar, Senegal at 08:30 hours, and later in the morning observed that a very large guard had drawn up on the quay. We counted 120 men with rifles and bayonets and another guard of Police Arsenal with light sandbags. At 14:30 hours, a lorry arrived, we boarded her and were taken under heavy guard to Sebikotane Internment Camp. On arriving at the camp, all money and valuables were confiscated and full particulars taken. Each of us were given a number, and then we were marched off to our quarters. I protested against our imprisonment under international law, but was given no answer.

The camp was a disused school, surrounded with a barbed wire entanglement. On arrival there, each man was issued with a pair of trestles, planks to lay across the top, a sheet and a blanket. I was told to appoint a cook and Brodigan, the second steward, volunteered for the job.

At 20:00 hours, we were marched 400 yards across rough ground whilst most of us were barefoot to have our first meal. We had to wait until the French natives had finished and then we ate from the same tins and plates with the same utensils which were not washed but merely dipped in cold water and put back on the filthy tables.

The evening dinner consisted of a small piece of goats meat, a pumpkin and two gallons of water between 24 men.

Ten guards with rifles and fixed bayonets stayed with us at all times and marched us back to our quarters. At 22:00, all the lights were extinguished and we were able to sleep in comparative comfort for the first time since we were torpedoed. Outside the camp was floodlit and guards patrolled round all night. 

November 17th

We turned out and cleaned the place for inspection lining up in three's with myself at the front, and the O.C and i then proceeded to inspect the camp. I pointed out that the condition of the latrine was dreadful and that it was infected with maggots, toads and blowflies etc. I asked for disinfectant so that we could clean but he replied that it would be impossible to obtain any.

The sanitary conditions of the camp were very bad: all the drains were simply open trenches in which water and sewage stagnated, and there was only one wash basin for all hands. However we all took advantage of the soap issue and washed what remained of our clothes. It was a very scantily dressed party that marched across to the school room for 'Lunch' which was worse than the previous nights meal. 

As the French authorities had taken great care not to put a single English speaking man amongst the camps Officers and N.C.O's, the burden of translating, filling in forms etc fell on my shoulders and wearisome work it was. I received an average of twenty requests and protests from the men over the first two days, until the O.C the camp refused to see me any more, or listen to any more protests.

I demanded proper treatment, permission to speak to the American Vice Consul, permission to contact the International Red Cross in Dakar about the vile conditions, permission to cable our company our names and condition, protested against our summar imprisonment without cause, against the insanitary condition, the lack of our shoes and clothing etc but to no avail.

November 19th

In the afternoon, two new arrivals were brought to the camp from Dakar. They had been in hospital with Dysentery and Malaria. They had been allowed to listen to the radio and told us that the general opinion in Dakar was that we would all be released in the next two or three weeks. They also told us how three of their ships company had died in this camp from sheer neglect from Malaria and Dysentery.

Our kit arrived on the lorry with the two men and we were later issued a native soldiers kit viz: - One sunhelmet, two pairs cotton shorts, two cotton shirts, two pairs socks, one pair army boots, one french army greatcoat and one haversack.

We had not been allowed any cigarettes for many days, even though Messers Christie, James and Smith offered to pay for them with the money which was taken from them on arrival. The bolder spirit therefore bartered their army kit with the guards for packets of cigarettes which they distributed, very generously, around the camp.

November 19th-24th

During the next four days, there was no change from our normal routine but on the 24th, the temporary O.C was replaced by the permanent O.C who was returning from Bamako, where he had escorted the crews of 'ORONSAY' and 'SITHORIA' together with some RAF crews.

He had the reputation of being a rather hard man, which he undoubtedly was, but he had the saving grace of being exceedingly garrulous and he often used to send for me to discuss the latest news and follow the campaign in North Africa using his excellent ordnance maps. I was thus able to keep the camp abreast of all new developments and this caused a great improvement in general morale, as the men were now suffering from chronic boredom. At this time i instituted lessons in French and Signalling which were very well attended. I was also giving the camp doctor English lessons.

The new O.C told me that providing the camp was run on strict military lines, he would not interfere as he was satisfied with the good state of internal discipline.

I immediately organised the camp on the lines he indicated appointing Orderly officers of the day (Messers Christie, James and Grainger on rotation) and Bombadier McGrath as Quartermaster Sergeant. The camp ran very smoothly under these lines, the Orderly Officers being most attentive to their duties, thus leaving me more time to 'wangle' little extras such as food, and to learn of the latest news.

On this day we learned that Senegal had joined the African Block under General Darlan, and this cheered everybody immensely although, at the same time, all begun to get rather restless as it seemed unfair that we should be interned when we were actual de fact allies.

November 27th

Two of the men came down with dysentery on this day and one man came down with malaria. The medical attention was very poor but i managed to get the native doctor to see them and he gave them an injection. He dropped his hypodermic needle on the earth but made no attempt to sterilise it, wiping it on his sleeve before using it.

November 28th - December 2nd

Conditions continued to grow worse, many men had acute diarrhoea and the dysentery and malaria cases did not improve. On man collapsed on sick-parade on the 29th but received no medical attention. We heard that Boisson had gone to North Africa to negotiate, and we had hopes being released on his return.

December 3rd

At last the American Vice Consul arrived. We made our protests to him and he took my log book away with him to forward to the foreign office. He was most guarded in his statements, he did say that he thought we would be released shortly, and told us not to try to escape until the situation was clarified.

December 3rd - 9th

There was no news and no change in the situation for the next week and everybody became rather restless, the life was so monotonous as there was literally nothing to do.

At 05:00 on the 9th, however, the O.C wakened me and told me to get dressed and to come with him and listen to the Swiss radio as he expected good news for us. We hurried off to the house of a big local landowner, Mr Roche, where i heard that the Governor General Boisson had agreed to release Allied Merchant ships and seamen being held in French West Africa.

I hastily ran back to the camp and told the good news. All the men were naturally very jubilant, but at the same time high indignant that the armed guard was still kept on, and that we were not allowed out of the camp.

Later in the day, the rules were relaxed a little and in the evening we were taken to see a cinema show. In the early evening two more men, Clemance and Rigney, were carried from Dakar Hospital. Rigney was a mass of suppurating sores and Clemance was simply a living skeleton.

December 10th

On this day the band of the 7th Regiment De Tirailleurs Seneglaise came to the camp to play. They gave a fairly good rendition of 'Tipperary' amongst cheers from the local population, who were clustered outside the barbed wire fences. Most of the restrictions were relaxed and the men were allowed into the field outside the camp.

December 11th

In the morning, i was sent by lorry to the Army Intelligence H.Q and after interview with Captaine Druiard, was told that on the following morning we would be taken by train to Kaolack and thence taken across the Gambia Frontier.

When i returned to the camp all the men had already been told the news and were in the local club where all the townspeople were holding an impromptu party. The civilians seemed as pleased as we were, most of the women had embroidered union-jacks on their dresses and some had tears of joy in their eyes. They seemed very glad to have confirmation that the African Block did actually mean something and all that nearly every house in the little village seemed open to everyone. We were told to make free use of their wireless sets to listen to the English programme and I personally was so deluged with invitations that i was only able to stay about half an hour in each home.

December 12th

At 09:00 hours, we entrained at Sebikotane on a first class steamer which had been reserved for us and we were provided with a guide.

At the last stop before Kaolack a large crowd gathered around our carriage to get a glimpse at 'Les Prisoners Anglais' and brought out jugs of wine and beer for us. We arrived at Kaolack at 23:00, were given a quick meal and then boarded a lorry bound for The Gambia. 

December 13th

At about 11:00 hours on the 13th, we arrived at a village some ten miles from the Gambian border but the track was very sandy and we were doing more pushing than driving and therefore decided to walk the rest of the way and told the Police Supt. driving us that we were fed up of pushing his lorry.

He seemed quite relieved and called two guards and told them to escort us to the frontier post. We had to assist Clemance, the sick man, but despite that we reached the frontier post at 14:00 hours. There was nothing but a solitary customs post and a native customs officer. He offered to send a man to the nearest British Army post but i decided to accompany the guide myself to ensure making contact with the army before nightfall.

After walking through the chick bush for an hour, i arrived at a native village but none of the inhabitants could speak any English or French and neither could the guide. Just outside the village were some tyre marks of army vehicles, so i decided to follow these and after a few minutes found a lorry and a rest house, where i found Mr Gordon of the Gambia Agricultural Department was having his lunch. He gave me his lunch and then we went back to the border for the sick man sending a runner to the nearest army post. 

We collected the sick man and took him down to Nijara, where he was put in the district commissioner's rest house. A short while after the army brought the rest of our party down to Nijara wharf, and we were taken by launch to Bathhurst"

 

For his part in the sinking of MV Dagomba, and his leadership both whilst at sea, and as a prisoner, Denis Wicksteed was awarded the Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct which appeared in the London Gazette on the 25th of May 1943 as follows;

'Those named below have been commended for their brave conduct when their ships encountered enemy ships, submarines, aircraft or mines.'

Denis was also mentioned in dispatches during the war, but the London Gazette is such a nightmare of a website, i have not yet found when or why he was mentioned.

After the war, Denis joined the Royal Naval Reserve as an officer and he rose to the rank of Captain. He was awarded the Royal Naval Reserve Decoration in 1965 whilst a commander. He also worked for Cunard Lines and was the Senior First Officer on the RMS Queen Mary. He was made a Liveryman in the Honorable Company of Master Mariners.

Denis George Wicksteed died in the 3rd quarter of the year 2000 in the South Hams district of Devon, England.

His awards are as follows: 1939-45 star, Atlantic star, Africa star with clasp 'North Africa 1942-43', War Medal with M.I.D, Royal Naval Reserve Decoration and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct. The group came with his Dogtag. The seller who i bought them from also has his full RNR uniform with peaked cap and miniatures, but they were being sold seperately and sadly i don't have the money to keep everything together!

Interestingly, the Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct (1916-1952) was awarded in three forms. From 1916-1942, it was awarded just as a certificate similar to the ones issued with Mentions in Dispatches. In 1943, they were issued as a Gold and Red plastic pin-backed badge. From 1944 onward's, the badges were not issued and instead, a silver laurel leaf was issued for civilians and worn on the defence medal if held, or on the tunic if the defence medal had not been earned. For armed forces and Merchant Navy, an oak leaf identical to the M.I.D was issued and worn on the war medal.

To find a 1943 Kings Commendation, to an Officer Prisoner of War, is absolutely incredible as they must be very very scarce? 

As i am sure you guys will have realised by the distinct lack of Naval and Maritime Prisoner of War groups in Mine and John's collections, they are really incredibly scarce and groups to people held prisoner in French West Africa are super rare. Add in the fact that Denis Wicksteed was the senior officer and was awarded a Commendation for his part and you can see that this group is a one of a kind.

Thanks for reading, got a few more posts to come soon!

D G Wicksteed.jpg

D G Wicksteed 2.jpg

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This is one of the best items in your collection.   What an excellent job of research too.  Thank you for posting this rare group! 

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Thanks very much John! I knew you would appreciate this one! 

I was extremely lucky with the research as another chap on a different forum already had Wicksteed's account of the sinking and was kind enough to email it all over to me a matter of hours after I messaged him, so thanks to Graeme!!

Its so nice to have a change of medal entitlement! Even though I really believe it's the story which is important, not the medals, it is nice to have the RNR decoration and Brave Conduct Commendation as I have never seen either in a POW group before!

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