My uncle, Wilf McAninly arrived in Stalag VIIIB on 14 June 1940 – interestingly, the day after he was listed missing in the Sunderland Echo. He was transferred to Stalag Luft III “verwundet” on 20 April 1943, then transferred “gesund” from Stalag Luft III to Stalag VIIIC on 29 July 1944 and then to Stalag VIIA on 16 August 1944.
He has written an account of his experiences, entitled ‘Life Behind Barbed Wire’, and here is a extract from it: “I was wounded, taken prisoner and spent five years as a PoW in Germany. The fateful day was 20 May 1940. I recall the enemy tanks advancing, with an infantry following. A tank shell burst quite close to me. A fragment caught the side of my head. My thoughts were ‘This is it!’. I barely remember the events that followed. The wounded were assembled with German medical orderlies in attendance. We were taken by transport to a large country house which had been converted into a field hospital.
I was there for about four weeks and then, along with many others, I had to walk for never-ending miles until we reached a railway. Awaiting us were cattle trucks into which we packed like sardines. The journey took about two days to our destination …which turned out to be Stalag VIIIB.
On arrival, our heads were shaved, and photographs were taken, along with our fingerprints. We were a sorry sight. The rations were miserable. A ladle of watery soup, two slices of bread with a small portion of marge and jam, or rotten cheese. That was our daily ration.
After a while, I was sent on my first working camp. We were taken to work ona railway that led into Poland. The work consisted of filling tubs with stones. These ran on miniature rails. We worked about 10 hours a day. On returning from work, we received a bowl of soup. That was dinner. At the same time, we were issued with a bread ration of marge and jam. At the same time were issued with a bread ration with marge and jam. That was breakfast. But we were so hungry, everything was eaten there and then. This meant we ate once every 24 hours.
A moment of joy! I received my first letter from home. Christmas came and then we entered a new year. The work was completed and we returned to Stalag VIIIB. Imagine our jubilation! A Red Cross food parcel awaited us. It was our first decent meal!
After several months in the main camp, along with about 70 others, I went to my second working camp. This was to E109 Ehrenforce. It situated in the wooded hills. Our task was to cut down trees and lop off the branches. When winter came, they were pulled over the snow, down to the roadside, where they were taken away by a wagon.
The months dragged on, conditions worsened and Red Cross food parcels became very irregular. We were infested with lice , and morale was rock bottom. We decided to refuse to work. The German officer in charge almost went crazy. He shouted and screamed, and waved his revolver around. The men waivered. ‘We are prisoners’ was said. They all gave in, except John Greenal from Newcastle, J H Harris from Chester and myself. Greenal kept whispering to me, ‘Don’t give in! Stick it out!’.
The men returned to work. We were escorted back to Stalag VIIIB to await our punishment, which turned out to be 14 days in the cooler. It was little different from our usual quarters…”
Received: December 2004
From: John Gowan
On behalf of: His second cousin, Wilf McAninly