Occasionally I am asked if there was anything in particular that caused me to sympathise with the Workers Reich. There were several reasons but I have to say I was initially influenced by the experiences of British servicemen.
When I first served on a British merchant ship my shipmates over 35-years of age would have served during the war. As a teenager I recall sharing a beer with an older sailor.
We talked about this and that and at one point he mentioned that his ship had been torpedoed during an Atlantic crossing. He was one of those rescued. The sailor was quite laid back about the experience whilst I in awe of his story hung on to his every word. I was curious as to why he and other distressed survivors had not been machine-gunned by the U-Boat’s crew. This was what routinely happened in such circumstances or so I had been told.
My companion clearly thought it was a stupid question to ask. He went on to explain that the ship’s crew, which typically would be no more than 15 to 20 in number, had been taken aboard the attacking U-Boat. I was eager to know more. I asked another stupid question: “What was it like on the submarine?” I got my answer; “Cramped!”
The ship’s quartermaster closed the conversation by saying that he and crew members of other captured ships spent the rest of their war at leisure in German prisoner of war camps.
British POWs at Camp Oflag on Sept. 17 1941 with parcels which has been sent to them.
George Marshall had been captured during the British retreat to Dunkirk ~ twice. On the first occasion he and his comrades had not been bound and had been treated civilly by their captors. During a turn in fortunes their party was released by rescuing British troops. George told of his sense of shame as their rescuers stripped their German captives of their trinkets; medals, documents and rank badges. The German troops wrists were also strapped. Yet again the odds changed and and George and his party were re-captured.
“Did the Germans treat their British captives badly after this experience,” I asked George.
“No, other than recovering the pilfered mementos we were treated okay by the German troops.”
The Liverpool caretaker and comrades had spent the rest of the war in captivity. Although engaged in working in the German salt mines he explained that the conditions were much as they might be if they had they been working in Britain but their living conditions were better than those of a British Army camp.
German soldiers guard Canadian and British prisoners of war after failed Dieppe raid, August 19 1942
I was in my thirties when on different occasions I became acquainted with two men whose names I don’t recall. One had been a sentry on duty at the British Embassy in Prague at the time of the Reich’s occupation.
The two British sentries watched as soon afterwards a long column of German staff cars approached before passing the British and other embassies. A staff car pulled to a halt at the British Embassy and a German officer approached the two Tommies.
Civilities were exchanged during which the sentries were asked in good English about their family and life in the Army. Both grinned and mentioned that the food could be better. The German Army officer smiled, saluted and returned to his staff car. The following day a car approached; two German officers alighted and a hamper of quality food was left for the British soldiers. The note explained that it was a gift from the Fuhrer.
Looking well fed and healthy after years of German captivity at Empire Day Garden Party, May 24 1945
The other acquaintance, a former RAF fighter pilot, told of the time when he had a German aircraft ‘bang to rights’. He was about to fire a salvo when he noticed a small terrier-like dog sitting as a passenger in the German pilot’s aircraft.
My friend explained that he hadn’t the heart to fire. Instead, the pilots exchanged waves and he wheeled away. “I never regretted doing so,” my friend added.
I suppose it was the post-war years I lived through that brought me into contact with so many interesting people. Ursula had been one of the secretarial office staff attached to Admiral Doenitz. Then there was my friendship with Rudolf. My German visitor, a former member of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, helped count the vote during an election in which we had fielded a candidate.
During the 1980s a client whom I had got to know quite well reminisced about his war. The archetypal English gentleman had, I seem to recall, three experiences of German captivity. On each occasion he and others had escaped and soon afterwards been recaptured. On the first two occasions there was little action taken others than minor punishment.
On the third escape the party had reached a safe house on the French coast. If there was relief at their impending rescue it was short-lived. Before dawn broke the not so safe house was raided by German troops and all were hauled off to meet their Nemesis. The Brits were transported to a special camp in Poland.
There, he and a handful of others were put in solitary confinement in telephone box sized sheds. Occasionally, their guard would spit on them. It was bitterly cold and when released the captives were provided with picks and put to work. Such were the freezing temperatures day and night that the picks bounced off the frozen earth. Unquestionably, the treatment the prisoners endured was far removed from that of their previous camps. I suggested to my friend that he must as a consequence despise the Germans.
“No,” he replied. “We had initially been treated very well; we had no cause to complain. We later abused the relaxed conditions and so I don’t blame them at all; I never have.”
Healthy after years as POWs. Liberated by General Patton’s 4th Armored Division, April 8 1945
Ironically, the only people who criticise the Germans are those who couldn’t tell a German from a Frenchman or had never met a German. I can say hand on heart that I have never met an English serviceman who spoke critically of Germany or the experience as captives.
HISTORY WITHOUT SPIN
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