WW II, a British focus  



memories of Pte Tom Barker
1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

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


You could not, by any stretch of the imagination, say that my last day as a Prisoner of War was uneventful. I woke up to cries of "there is no bloody Guard on the wire", and "look up at the tower, the Guard has gone". I leapt out of my bunk and sure enough as I looked up at the tower there was no one there.

Some one must have taken a risk and got through one of the windows and removed the wooden bar across the door outside, because the door suddenly swung open and on going outside I saw the bar of 2ins by 4ins by 4ft wood on the ground, which at night time the guard put across the door and dropped it into a metal bracket that was secured to the woodwork on each side of the door-frame to lock us in. I did not know whether to laugh or cry because after four years of not knowing what the next day would bring, -------Hitler had ordered all Prisoners to be shot, Political and POW if the Third Reich looked like it was going to lose the war.

He did in fact state, "I'm not bothered about anyone who is left in Germany since all the best Germans are now dead the remainder are worthless and not worth consideration.

He also gave orders to blow up Paris.

But the Commandant there ignored the order as were lots of other orders, because I think the German Army was beginning to wake up and see that in fact Der Fuhrer was not God, and no matter how much he ranted and raved and waved his hands about, the dreaded Russians still kept coming.

And from the other direction the Allies were advancing
But that first exhilarating moment of knowing at last we no longer had guns pointing at us was indeed better than any champagne, and blokes were linking arms and doing a jig while mouthing a merry tune. Also the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, I think if it had poured with rain it still would have been a beautiful day. Blokes were also coming out of other barracks now and we merged and chatted, "what's happening then"? was the repeated question. One bloke came through the barracks door and he was clutching a tin of cold baked beans in one hand while in the other he held a spoon that was heaped with baked beans that were sliding off the spoon and slowly creeping down the front of his shirt. Having stoked his laughing gear with beans it occurred to him that there was something different about today, and beans went flying through the air as he spluttered "wots 'appenin' then?"

One bloke looked at him with distain and replied, "I don't know but it looks like all the Goons have taken off, must have seen you coming and thought they were next on your menu"

Some bloke had gone back into the hut and told some of the blokes still in bed " you can stay in bed today if you wish my man, as there will be no roll call, seein' as 'ow the bloody Goons 'as all nikked off. And some blokes who had been POW a long time jumped out of bed and went outside to verify that this was fact and not another sick joke. On finding no guards in the towers and none on the wire, some went to the guardroom and it too was empty and some of these blokes stood and wept unashamedly as it sunk in at last they might get home again in one piece.

A couple of blokes did not even bother to come out they just sat on their bed and rocked and rocked, they were wire happy, and well ready for home. Sadly to them this day made no difference to any other, and would sit there waiting to go out side on roll call as they had done for four years to cries from the guards of "alle man rous zum appell" (everyone out for rollcall).

But today was different, but no matter, they would not move, unless some of our blokes prompted them it was ok to do this and ok to do that. These were the blokes who were going to need a lot of care and love when they got home, being abused for four years is something that is difficult to understand for a lot of people. Blokes in jail for a crime have rules and the law to live with; they also have rights as a human being.

A POW has no rights, and in wartime can be shot any time for any reason the guards wish to dream up. As the news began to spread round the different compounds there was a roar like you might hear at a footy match as a goal is scored as this information began to permeate the gathering crowd.

It rippled over the camp as the news spread and was taken in.

Suddenly a Russian soldier (a woman) on a shaggy horse with a rifle slung over her back, pistol on her belt, crossed bandoliers of ammo slung over her body, and wielding a sabre dashed through the space between the huts and hurtled on through the camp.

I noticed a bit of paper had been nailed to a nearby post and I went over and read "you are advised to stay in your camp because Russian soldiers will shoot at any one not in a Russian uniform"

On my way back to my barrack room I was jostled and nudged by blokes who were over the top and I grinned at them as they thumped me on the shoulder and mouthed "wont be long now old mate". I was glad to get to my bunk and sat down to have a think about what to do next.

I noticed it had suddenly gone very quiet and I saw every one was watching something happening over in the Russian POW compound so I went outside and joined the crowd to see what was so interesting and I wished I had not. It was grisly and haunting.

There was a German Guard called Blondie, he was in charge of the Russian work parties. In my mind he was also the meanest bastard in any army. He would hit a POW for no reason; he usually carried a pick handle and would lay into anyone who got in his way. He was about six foot tall and heavy built with blonde hair blue eyes and a permanent scowl and looked what he was in his grey uniform with all the relevant badges to show he had been in the Hitler youth, a typical SS bully boy. And we knew for certain that he had killed eight blokes in this camp, blokes who could not fight back.

One day a cart with rubbish and potato peelings was on its way to the rubbish pit to be burned when some hungry Russian POW grabbed some of the peelings off the cart. Blondie saw them and put his pistol to the back of one blokes head and shot him, and beat the other senseless with his pick handle and broke his arm, and lashed out at others who came too close to him. He then made the rest pick up the dead man and put him on the rubbish cart all the time hitting any one within range of his pick shaft, and the dead man was taken to the pit and burnt along with the rubbish. He was also responsible for the death of a bloke I knew, so I shed no tears for Blondie but to see a bloke die like this was like being in a nightmare.

The Russian POW now freed and was applauding the woman on the horse, and she was basking in this adoration. Some had been busy raiding the small allotment garden in the camp to get any thing that was edible and that was where they found Blondie the German guard hiding in one of the tool sheds. He had been found asleep in a drunken stupor and was now struggling to keep his feet while a group of very determined Russian POW steered him to lamppost in the camp.

A large group had gathered and two or three Russians had hold of Blondie by the arms. Blondie was struggling and shouting and screaming but to no avail. The woman on the horse just sat there and watched as a skinny Russian POW threw a rope over the lamp post nearby and fastened it round Blondie's ankles. Three or four thin Russian POW got hold of the rope and pulled while two more held on to Blondie's arms and pulled him off his feet. The Russians on the rope pulled Blondie's legs off the ground and the two holding the arms let go so now Blondie is grabbing at tufts of grass to stop himself being hoisted upside down. The Russians kept hoisting until Blondie was about two or three feet clear of the ground.

For a short while Blondie was swaying back and forth and trying to reach up to untie the rope round his ankles. When it looked like he might succeed one Russian grabbed his arm and cut and hacked until the hand fell off to the ground, meanwhile Blondie's other fist is flailing at the blokes back until another Russian POW grabbed the arm and hung on to it.

The bloke with the knife did the same to the other hand.

Meanwhile Blondie is screaming and writhing upside down and blood is being spattered on the watching Russians who move back to avoid getting wet.

After a while the screaming stops and the body twitches as the blood is just a drip now and then. Another Russian moved forward and I thought he was comforting the German it looked as though he was giving him a hug. When he stepped back he suddenly held up the severed head of the German for all to see.

Then looking at it, he spat on it, then as though in disgust, he threw it to the side of the road, and urinated on it, and one or two of the others walked over to it and did the same.

To me this was the ultimate savagery of war. A butcher has enough compassion for an animal he is about to butcher in that he will dispatch with the least amount of pain, but to me this was barbaric. But when one thinks of all the death camps and all the people the Nazis killed in all countries and all the misery they caused, this one death was but a drop in an ocean.

To the Russian POW it was justice to everyone else it was War. How thin too is that veneer we hide under, we call it civilisation. I would like to point out here to those sceptics who say the Holocaust and some of the war stories by different authors are not true. How come they were seen by not only by me, but thousands of POW in that camp, British, French, Russian, Greek, Americans, Dutch, etc.

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. P.O.W. no 12244 T.O.B.1997