POW (07/44)

Stalag 357 (18th July 1944)

After settling in at Thorn Wally wrote to Joan telling her he had changed camps.

P.O.W. Air Mail letter July 21/44  (Written at Stalag 357 Thorn)

My dearest one I hope you are well I have changed camps as you will see from the address, we arrived here the night before last and everyone is very busy getting settled in.  Please excuse the writing I am holding it on my knee and laying on my bed at the same time.  I enjoyed the journey down here, we saw several storks nests, some of them on barns just beside the railway line, it was possible to see the young birds in them, some of the baby ones were as big as chickens.  I saw some deer in a field beside a wood, also a dead horse.  I have got hold of a Bavarian pipe it is so big and curly, it holds an awful lot of tobacco you would be very amused if you could see it (Half a sentence deleted by German censors, probably because he stated his location)  the weather is lovely, this camp is rather more interesting than the last, it is not in such a lonely spot.  There is another fellow here I was at school with but I haven’t met him yet, he is in the Army and was captured at Crete.  I have had a notification from A/M about my commission and last week I received a telegram saying I was a father.  I hope David is keeping well, give him my love and lots of it to you. 

See you soon Walt.

The prisoners stay at Thorn was short-lived.  The Russian juggernaut was continuing its westward drive and on 7th August 1944, the prisoners were again loaded into cattle trucks.  This time the Germans had managed to find enough rolling stock to enable the prisoners to travel with 40 men in each boxcar.   The journey took them 500 miles due west and into Germany via Bromberg and Stettin and finally arriving at Fallingbostel two days later.


Stalag XIB (9th August 1944)

The camp that Wally now found himself at had previously been Stalag XIB, however, the influx of new arrivals from Thorn retained their Stalag 357 designation.  Built in 1937 as a barracks for construction workers Stalag XIB was fenced off at the commencement of hostilities and utilized as a P.O.W. camp housing Polish,  French and Belgian prisoners taken in the early part of the war.

With the arrival of the prisoners from Thorn there were now approximately 20,000 prisoners in Fallingbostel.  They consisted of mostly British P.O.W.’s however  Russian, Polish, Yugoslav, French, and American prisoners were also housed there.

The prisoners were crammed into the camp and housed in leaking barrack huts that contained up to 400 men, those that could find a bed slept in triple bunk beds.   Bed boards had been used to shore up tunnels and blankets were in short supply having been used to make uniforms and other escape clothing.

Life was hard for everyone, lice were a continuous problem for the prisoners along with disease and starvation. The latrines consisted of a communal 60 seat “open holer” in a barn like building.  Although often running over with effluent the latrines were a popular place for the kriegies to converse with a modicum of privacy in the overcrowded camp.

    Prisoners communal latrine

Out in the open, a three stand  ablution served 1,000 men at Fallingbostel

In August 1944 the Y.M.C.A. distributed “Wartime Log” books to prisoners throughout Germany.  These proved very popular with the prisoners who filled them with sketches, poems anecdotes, and recollections of their imprisonment.  In a letter to Joan Wally makes mention of this, he also discusses the lack of confirmation of his commission from the Air Ministry.

A transcript of the letter above follows.

P.O.W. Air Mail letter Aug 30/44 (Written at Stalag 357 Fallingbostel)

My dearest Joan, I hope you are well and are receiving my mail, I had three letters from you a fortnight ago, May 2 & 8  and June 8, they were very welcome indeed. I noticed that the last one was addressed F/O, I haven’t had any confirmation of it but it takes a long time as a rule.  I hope you have received the money due to you from the A/M, you should have a decent lump sum, we will need it after the war and a lot more besides.  Jack had a letter from Chalky some months back, I haven’t heard from him.  I think we should be together again some time next year, I reckon everyone has had enough fighting, I have anyway, I don’t want to go to Japan.  I shall be glad when my second parcel comes along. It is quite a long time now since you sent it, I hope it hasn’t got lost.  The Y.M.C.A. has sent out log books,  but it is a bit difficult to put stuff in them, all the camp artists are all overwhelmed with them (Approximately thirty words were deleted by German censors)   Give David a kiss for me, I am longing to receive the photos of him. 

All my love Walt.

In letters home Wally told his wife he had shaved his head “to keep the sand out” but the reality was that the whole camp had their heads shaved to help control the lice.  In letter dated October 15th, 1944 he wrote I was inoculated last week, anti-typhus, I went thro a lot of mental agony before nerving myself to have it done, but I figured we shall be here for the winter”

The arrival of a contingent of British paratroops captured at Arnhem did nothing to help the overcrowding of the camp in November of 1944.  The paratroopers senior N.C.O.’s was John C. Lord of 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

Lord immediately began working on improving the conditions of the prisoners and bringing order to the British compound.  He demanded strict military discipline and ensured the prisoners had regular exercise and attended parades. More about John Lord can be read here http://www.paradata.org.uk/people/john-c-lord

An extremely cold and wet winter followed.  The whole compound became a sea of mud.  There was an extremes shortage of Red Cross parcels, in a letter to his wife dated November 24th, 1944  Wally stated that he had only received ¾ of a Red Cross parcel in 7 weeks.

The starving prisoners set up a rota system to scavenge for scraps of potatoes and swede peelings from the German cookhouse.  These were bought back to the barracks and boiled into a thin soup.

Just before Christmas 1944, the prisoners of Stalag 357 Fallingbostel received a shipment of Red Cross parcels which relieved their situation, albeit temporarily as they were plunged into a horrific situation in the New Year.

More on Stalag XIB / Stalag 357 Fallingbostel can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_XI-B

Wally must have been a relieved man when he was notified he was being transferred from Fallingbostel to an officer’s camp, Stalag Luft III at Sagan 100 miles southeast of Berlin.  Prior to his departure, he wrote to Joan.

P.O.W. Air Mail letter  Jan 22/45  (Written at Stalag 357 Fallingbostel)

My dearest Joan, Just a hurried line to let you know I am leaving this camp at four o’clock in the morning, eleven officers are moving to Sagan, the same camp that Bob is at.  In future my address will be Stalag Luft 3  address all parcels and mail as such, and send snaps of David.  I have received the baby ones of him but guess he has changed during the last few months.  I know Ruth (relative in Detroit)  is older than I am, I never said otherwise, I believe her birthday falls in September, I have never argued on the point, I think you must be mixing me up with someone else.  I shall be very glad to get some cigarettes its ages since I had any.  Some of the “Staff of Life “ (bread)  would go down very well at the moment.  What do you think of the news these days.  I hope I am able to get in the same compound as Bob, I should very much like to see him again.  I am sorry to leave Robbie but I guess it wont be so very long before we meet again. I have made dozens of reunion promises for after the war so you will spend a few lonely nights even then. 

All my love Walter

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