WW II, a British focus  


Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes


We had arrived at the air strip after having got out of the prisoner of war camp Stalag 4B Muhlberg. I was standing on the grass and the bloke who had got out with me was sitting.

We both were looking round wondering what to do next. Then from the buildings about five hundred yards away a figure came out and walked toward us. When he got to us he queried "What are you doing here and how did you get here?". We told him, an American officer had dumped us here out of his jeep after having found us wandering along a road, where, according to reports there had been a sweep by American troops to clear pockets of s.s. troops still in the area. "you mean you have come from the other side of the Elbe river" he asked looking a bit surprised. I told him we had got out of the POW camp three days ago and an American officer found us on the road and having dumped us here suggested we stay put, "no matter what". "Well" said the bloke "I suppose you had better stay put, but keep away from those people" and he pointed toward a large group of what looked like skeletons dressed in black vertical striped pyjamas. They looked filthy and some were busy picking lice from their clothing, while others looked like they just did not care any more, some were dying, some were dead, and some just stared out of vacant eyes and swayed slowly as they tried to stay upright.

I became aware of the bloke speaking to me again as he repeated "stay put because if a lot more people come this is the point where they will be put so that when any cargo planes come in they can load you all and take you home. So don't move and you will be first in the queue. Unfortunately there will be no more planes today, we just got a message. So you will have to kip down here tonight, no I'm sorry but we cannot cater for you, we do not have the facilities". I said "don't worry about it, I've been a POW for four years so another night won't make a lot of difference". Then I was sorry I said it, because he flushed and looked awkward, it wasn't his fault they had no facilities. He was about to walk away when a speck in the distant sky appeared. As it grew larger the engines could be heard and it lined up for the runway to land. The bloke said "wonder who this is, we have no info of any one coming".

Soon the plane rolled to a stop and we recognised it as a DC 3 Dakota transport. Then two figures got out. One was scanning the area with a pair of binoculars, the other one came towards us. On arriving, we could see he was a Sgt RAF. He informed us that we should not be here and why where we here. So after we explained he said "I suppose you had better come and talk to the boss, so we hiked across to the plane where the other bloke turned out to be Air Marshal Tedder. After the smiles and hand shaking was done with, he asked us to get aboard and he would airlift us to Riems in France. He then suggested the Sgt make us some thing to eat while he was away "just going to look round the control tower, won't be long and away he went. Meanwhile the Sgt. could be heard moving about next door busy cooking something. He emerged from his kitchen with two plates of bacon and eggs clutched in one hand and utensils in the other. Tedder walked into the plane and muttered "gawd Sgt. don't give 'em that greasy muck, they will throw up on my nice clean floor, give them a glass of hot milk with a fresh egg whisked into it and a nip of my Johnny Walker (whisky), that aught to hold em till we get to France. It did, I fell asleep and woke up to hear Tedder telling my friend that that tower we are now passing took a terrible pasting before the troops in it would surrender. Then turning to me he grinned "you missed most of the guided tour, still you will feel better now."

Then we landed and were shown a tent to go to and I never saw the other bloke again. The next day I was deloused and interviewed and told to stay put in my tent until sent for. On entering the delousing center you stripped off all clothing and the only thing you did not take off were the dog tags round the neck. At the exit to, there were clean clothes and boots and having put these on I was led to a room where a lot of questions were asked. I was asked why I had Stalag 111D tattooed on one arm and 12244 on the other? I got this as a punishment for smuggling bread into the camp and being stroppy with the guard. I was dragged into the guard room and my arms pinned on the table while a guard with some sewing needles pushed through a cork from a bottle pricked my arm and rubbed soot from the stove pipe into the now bleeding skin. The Stalag 111D he got on without a lot of effort but while he was doing the tattooing he was also sipping from a bottle of schnapps. When he got to the other arm, he was a bit fuddled and had two or three attempts at putting 12244 on my arm. When he finally slumped asleep I was kicked through the gate into our compound and my left arm was a mess. The next day I found that the camp commandant was on leave so I had to wait for him to return before I could complain, but I was advised by others to let it go and get it removed when and if I got home. A good argument was put forward by some of our blokes, in that if I made trouble for the guards they having the upper hand could make things a lot more unpleasant for us.

That explanation was accepted and I was asked a lot more like why was I using the name Tenny when my name was Barker, also I had Tenny's dog tags and what did we hope to achieve swapping names and risking being shot. When I suggested that the idea was Tenny's and his whole idea was to get back and bomb Germany again, and seeing as how I could not do that, I thought it was a good idea. I had already spent two years sabotaging the German railways when out on work parties so I thought "let someone else have a go", I had earned my pay. Besides if some smart gestapo bloke were to put two and two together and found that where I was there the trains were being tampered with, things could have got a bit sticky for me. I was not alone in the train tampering department, one or two of our chaps were delighted to lend a hand and it was so simple. When on a work party usually there are no toilet facilities, so when nature called the obvious place to seek privacy was behind goods wagons. So long as you shout to the guard to let him know that you must go by waving a bit of paper and pointing behind the wagons. He usually would grimace and shout "ya, ya", then go back to investigating the upper reaches of his nose, or reading a girly magazine. We had one guard used to get out of the way and one day one of our blokes peeped to see what he was up to. Lo and behold, he was combing his hair and looking into a little hand mirror, which he would stand on a rock and looking into it would pose and squeeze blackheads from his nose, and when he came back he smelled like a perfume factory. However our time was well spent once we got near the rolling stock. It took only a moment to quickly glance round for prying eyes, then just as quickly raise the trap on the grease box, scoop out a hand full of grease, then grab a handful of sand and gravel and ram it into the grease box, then replace the grease on top of the sand to hide it. Once this mixture got to the axle of the wheel the bearing in the grease box got hot and melted then the wagon would be derailed and any wagons behind it would pile up and it would be chaos. The line could be blocked for days. Tanks and other war materials going to the front would not get there, not on time anyway. So it is not surprising we got away with a lot of this kind of sabotage because the guards were not awake to what was going on.

So having established who I was, I was told to wait in my tent and I would be ferried to England in the bomb bay of a Lancacter bomber. While I was waiting I was brought a telegragh form to fill in to send home to let them know where I was. This really got me going because I was free and close to home, then I was taken with some others to an air strip and we were loaded into the bomb bay. I saw traces of coal in the cracks but I did not care, I just relaxed and laid back and let the pilot do the thing he did best G"ET US BACK TO ENGLAND". Then the pilot shouted "you lads comfortable?" and we chorused in unison "yeeeeees" and the pilot added "ok lads, lets go home"

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker