Wells, Bill

Bill Wells

Until 1945

After being captured at Calais, my father, Bill Wells, a sergeant in the Royal Signals, was imprisoned in Blechhammer. an offshoot of Stalag VIIIB. Here is what he told the Portsmouth News before his death in 1986.

“We were at Blechhammer to build a refinery and power station, and we were supervised by a German prince from his castle in the mountains nearby. You could hear the bells tinkling as he drove his sleigh down to the camp. At other times of the year, he arrived by landau and pair. He was pro-British, and married to an English girl who had returned to London at the outbreak of war. So he used to cover up for some of our capers.”

“My role was to look after the camp electrical system. For the most part, though, it was a question of keeping yourselves fully occupied. All sorts of activities went on to keep morale high. There were concerts, sports, (see photos below) lessons and parties.”

Pirates of Penzance

“Concert parties were very popular, especially with the C.O. We persuaded them to convert one hut into a theatre. We dug an orchestra pit and the Red Cross sent us some musical instruments. We put on all sorts of productions:The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, Night Must Fall.. They were so successful that we used to take them up to Genshagen, in Berlin, where there was a rest camp for P.O.W.’s who had been working in the mines.”

“Once when we left to go there, we smuggled out a Welshman that the Gestapo were looking for. On another occasion, a New Zealander got away, dressed as a woman. Someone helped him get through the wire and he was out some time before he was caught. When they brought him in, they made him wear the woman’s clothes, but not the wig, thinking to humiliate him. It rebounded, though, because he was cheered by the rest of us.”

Secret radio room

“We had a secret radio room and a hidden photographic section. The Gestapo were always trying to find it, but never did. The huts were on stilts, for security reasons. Under one room we had dug out a hidey-hole. You dropped down through the floor of a room, raked aside the sand, lifted some planks and there was the room. There was just space to crouch and listen to the radio. A bloke took the news down in shorthand, then reports were written out and circulated.”

“On January 22, 1945, with the German Army on the retreat, we were marched out of the camp. We walked 50 miles, but had to turn back because of troop movements. A second evacuation was mounted, and them we began the hardest episode of our spell in detention. Now known as the Lamsdorf Death March, we walked for 13 weeks, sleeping rough, often in pig-styes and barns.”

“Eventually, we were released by General Patton’s Army, flown to Rheims, then to Ford Aerodrome, Sussex. It was certainly a time I wouldn’t want to live through again.”

Received: February 2005
From: Brian Wells
On behalf of: His late father, Bill Wells

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