Saturday, February 25, 2006
The war ends in Italy, 2nd May 1945
Photo shows: The Guardhouse at our POW camp at Ferndorf
Notes from my Diaries
Wednesday 2nd. May 1945
Jerry threw his hand in Italy and Austria. Fired all our 2" mortars, phosphorous bombs and verey lights and had bonfires all over the shop.
Cease fire about 11 pm.
( At noon today the Germans signed an unconditional surrender at Caserta)
Within days the whole regiment was summoned on parade by the CO who addressed us as follows:
"As you know the war in Europe is now over, and I suppose most of you are looking forward to seeing your loved ones again after years spent overseas. I must tell you, however, that there is an SS Cavalry Division in Austria at the moment who refuse to cease fighting and our regiment has been given the honour of going up there and persuading them that it would be a good idea on their part to surrender to us."
Wednesday 9th. May 1945
All packed ready for move to Austria of all places but cancelled when S.S. Division packed in. Parcel from home with Kummel.
Thursday 10th. May 1945
Playing cards all day. Latest griff is we are getting armoured cars and then going to Austria as occupational troops. Still no mail.
Friday 11th. May 1945
Spent all afternoon in Padua, iced drinks, ices and ENSA show.
Met lads of brother Mick's Brigade.
Hear that Jack has been shot down over Nuremberg.
This was the terrible day when I received a letter from home to say that my brother Jack had been shot down over Germany and had been posted as missing. It reached me within a week of the war ending in Europe and at a time when we were all congratulating ourselves on having survived the war.
Saturday 12th. May 1945
Afternoon in Venice. Took lift to the top of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco. Had picture taken with the clock in the background.
Sunday 13th. May 1945
Had a day in, fortunately, as orders came in that we are on 12 hours notice to move into Austria
Monday 14th. May 1945
Moved off at 8 am. Stopped for night just North of Udine at small village that had been bombed by us. Partisans swarmed all over the place, one with Robin Hood beard.
The Partisans were something new in my experience. In my estimation these were genuine heroes, to have been captured by the Germans would have meant certain death for themselves and probably their families. Without exception they were all bearded and dressed in the most motley of clothing. They were armed with mainly captured German weapons and at this point in their lives they were living a dream come true. We saw one small group who had recently captured a German soldier. They were pushing him along in front of them to lord knows where. The soldier was grey in face as if he knew what fate awaited him and no one in our party made the slightest move to ask them what was going on.
15th May Verbal orders received from 78 Div to establish POW camp at FERNDORF for 500 POW.
Wednesday 16th. May 1945
At Ferndorf. Nothing to do but wait arrival of (German) prisoners. Griff is very confused. Am not on guard list. Billets crowded but quite O.K.
The site for the camp was almost ideal. Situated in a valley it must originally have been a field for grazing and had the river on one side and railway embankment on the other. We quickly put up some barbed wire around the perimeter and bingo, we had a cage. Within a few days the first 2OOO prisoners arrived by train and eventually this number was to swell to 4OOO.
Timber was requisitioned from far and wide, and after it was dumped in the cage, the Germans were told to get on with it and build their own accommodation, which they soon did in a most professional manner. One of the first buildings put up was a guard room for our own benefit and I, in company with the rest of "A" squadron, was to spend the next month doing 24 hours on, and 24 hours off guard without a break.
At any one time there were only four men on actual guard around the perimeter, one patrolling the railway embankment, one the river bank, and the other two each other side of the cage. The Germans had their own internal guard to keep things in order within the cage itself and it was quite common for the British and German guards to patrol together, each on his own side of the wire.
On one occasion, in the early hours of the morning, I was chatting in German to my counterpart on the other side. I told him I was Jewish, to which I got the almost automatic response: "Ich habe so viel Freunden Juden!", ( I have so many Jewish friends!) and I asked him as a matter of academic interest what would have happened if some weeks earlier I had the misfortune to be captured by his own unit and they discovered I was Jewish.
He considered the matter for a moment and then told me that if I had been one of a large group of prisoners, then no attempt would have been made to segregate me, and I would have just been sent to the rear with the others. If, however, I had been captured separately and if his own officer said to him "shoot him" then he would simply have shot me, for as he quite cheerfully pointed out to me: "If I don't shoot you, then he shoots me!"
At the time, it all seemed perfectly logical to both of us and I have often been glad that events had never put the matter to the test.
On another occasion I was on the river bank duty and was being observed by a bunch of young Jerries. It was fairly obvious that they were amused by something and I asked them what they were laughing at. The ringleader said: "It's because you are only armed with a pistol!" (as tank crew this was standard issue and worn in a belt holster). I pointed out to him that if he personally attempted to slip through the wire and swim the river, the pistol was more than sufficient to stop him, if on the other hand the whole 4OOO of them were to decide to make a run for it, then all the armoured cars in the village would probably have difficulty in stopping them. He saw the logic of it and shared it with his friends.
Occasionally we would lose some prisoners who would scoot up the railway embankment and make for the hills, and we used to send out patrols in the early hours to see if they were hiding in the local farms. To everyone's embarrassment we sometimes found our own troops having a liaison with the local "talent."