We were led to a barn in the middle of the field and some sort of documenting was done and we were counted. While this was going on, we noticed that one of the Glider Pilots lying on his back in the field moved his legs up and down. Naturally we pointed this out to the Germans and they took a couple of us to help carry him back. When we got there we saw that the whole back of his head had been shot away and the movement we had seen must have been nerves. We recognised who it was but it would do no good to say now. The Germans didn't allow us to linger very long and we had to return to the barn. Shortly afterwards, we started to make our way into Germany. There were a few wounded in the party, one in particular very badly - part of his thigh had been shot away and the shell dressings we had were totally inadequate, so that two men had to support him as we moved off. During this time the noise of battle went on relentlessly all around us. We could see fox holes being prepared in the fields usually with boys of about fourteen or fifteen standing in each one and armed with a rifle or machine gun. They looked proud to be defending the Fatherland. We asked the Germans if they could produce a wheelbarrow to carry the man with the hole in his leg and as the night advanced we passed a farm from which was produced a large wheelbarrow. Fortunately we had all been given in our first aid kits a supply of morphine ampoules and this made the journey more tolerable for the wounded. Our guards were older members of the Vermach and were just doing their job of taking us to a further staging point somewhere ahead.
We staggered on all night and it was one or two o'clock in the morning before we reached a proper Dressing Station. There we were able to deposit the wounded men much to theirs and our relief. The rest of us continued on our way eastwards for the rest of the night. We got to a place called Borken which had been badly damaged by our bombers, the place seemed to be one great heap of rubble and there was a lot of people about as we made our way along the streets. I noticed that although it was obvious we were British and under guard, the population mainly women and children showed no ill feeling towards us. When we arrived at a stand pipe to fill our water bottles, the long line of Germans waiting to fill their buckets and bottles stood aside politely to allow us to fill ours without a semblance of hatred. I got the impression that their hopes of a better life had completely collapsed. However, we were soon on the go again. It was here that I asked one of the guards if I could take charge of his bike and save him the inconvenience of walking along holding the bike in one hand and a rifle in the other. He was only to happy to do this and I willingly took it from him. I was already on the last row of prisoners and so after walking with the bike for a short distance, I decided to mount the thing to see what reaction there would be. To my surprise the guard smiled and shrugged his shoulders, of course there were more guards behind the column, making escape or attempt very difficult. So there I was slowly riding a bike almost as if I was a guard, I can say that the relative rest that I was getting made my existence a lot more tolerable. Occasionally I was forced to dismount because of lack of a smooth enough track, but as soon it was possible I again remounted and so the night passed on.
Sometime before dawn we arrived at a large farm and were told we would stay here for the day. First of all we were placed in a kind of yard so that only two or three men were needed to keep watch on us. Then individually we were taken into the adjacent large hut, which had been arranged as an office and each man was questioned. Some men stayed in for interrogation a very long time while others were in and out very quickly, so it was easy to know who was giving information and who were stone-walling. When my time came, I had attended lectures about being questioned by the enemy and to every question merely replied "I can't say" and in a minute the German officer knew he would get nothing from me and so finished the interview straight away. Some people were questioned for a very long time. This went on for most of the morning and everybody was very hungry. Every attempt to get some food was met by a promise that there would shortly be a feed. Finally after the last man had been interrogated we were taken a short distance along the road to a very large barn in the middle of a collection of smaller buildings. The large barn had an upper storey, but the floor above was made of boards so staggered to allow air to circulate freely for drying proposes. We were all told to go up there on ladders which we did. The upper floor was separated into compartments and the senior British officer ordered all privates into one of these, while Sergeants and officers occupied the other.
Shortly afterwards, there was a shout from below and the Germans had brought some food to be shared equally. There was a large piece of ertzatz cheese, seven or eight loaves of bread and a bucket of milk. In the upper ranks "Room" there were a total of about 12 men, whilst in other compartment there were about 40 men. The S.B.O. commenced to cut the cheese into equal parts. At first, I thought this was the start of further cutting, but no, an attempt was made to pass the only slightly bigger piece of cheese to the 40 men on the other side of the partition. I objected to this vigorously and told the officers that I intended to escape and that I would report his behaviour to the first authority in the British lines that I encountered. The result of my complaint was that a much fairer share-out of the rations did in fact occur, much more to my liking, but I thought still not really fair. After devouring this meal, there was nothing more to do but sleep, the large gaps in the floor made the place cold and draughty, so sleep did not come easily. We were all very glad to welcome the evening, all day long there had been a constant noise of allied aircraft flying overhead searching for targets and frequently firing machine guns and rockets. Fortunately we had not been spotted. As soon as darkness came the German Army came to life again. We were ordered down to the ground again and again given a small amount of food and a drink of ertzatz coffee before moving off again east.
We went through the town of Goesfield, which was in a complete shambles, so much so that it was difficult to distinguish the road between the piles of shattered buildings. Here again the people were completely resigned and showed no animosity towards us prisoners. After getting through the town, there was a long hold-up, due I think to relieving some of the guards who had moved out of their district. When it became light again, the destination which we had been aiming for had not been reached, so it was necessary for the column to continue marching on in the day. The Allied air forces were everywhere; consequently we were forced to take cover often. The Allied aircraft were everywhere, thousands of them, just looking for targets and often finding good ones. It was very encouraging to see that there were no German aircraft anywhere, so our pilots could fly around with only anti aircraft guns to worry about and it seemed all attacks were at very low levels. The typhoons and tempest fighters with machine guns and rockets were absolutely devastating, picking out their targets and then coming in low. The large anti aircraft guns had little chance to get an effective bead on these fighter-bombers. Once as we were approaching a village cross road where a church tower showed up to one side of the crossroad, a squadron of Typhoons decided to attack. We of course had taken cover in a ditch, which we shared with three heavy tanks. The Germans were desperately trying to get the engines to run properly and being a motor mechanic myself it was obvious that the petrol that they were trying to use was not suitable, because of the spitting and banging. Also the strong smell of paraffin and alcohol hung heavy in the ditch. However we had a good side view of the attack on the crossroad. The typhoons came in at roof top height, shooting their rockets about 6 or 700 yards before. The rockets sped off in front of the plane and with most of them getting bulls eyes, the planes would sheer of to the right or left so as to avoid the explosions. From our point of view we were all delighted, but to the Germans it must have been hell to see the destruction of their own country. The Germans were bewildered and didn't show any sign of hatred to us prisoners, I think that they felt that it was all they could expect from the Allies at this stage in the war. I had a sneaking feeling that they used us prisoners to keep the air force away from both them, and us because from the low flying vantage point it must have been evident to the pilots that we were prisoners of war and so did not attack.
In this way we finally arrived at a railway at a place called Appelulsen, where we were loaded into goods wagons, 60 men to each wagon. The conditions were very uncomfortable indeed, as it was impossible for everyone to sit down. We finished up sitting on each other, half standing and sitting as best we could. We were issued with 12 small tins of food, meat I think. The doors were then closed and after what seemed an eternity the train eventually moved off. The train would slowly move on for a short distance and then stop for a varying length of time, then move a bit further. This went on all the rest of that day and passing through Munster, where through the cracks in the door we could see massive destruction everywhere. I almost felt sorry for the Germans. During this time I had been busy working on the door of our wagon and finally getting it to a state that I was able to open it at any time convenient to me. I also had a small piece of mirror, which I fixed on a stick, so that it was possible to look up and down the train to locate any guards. I think it took over an hour to get through Munster and out into the country again, then slowly on towards Osnabruck. Again the city had been bombed very badly indeed, every where there were gigantic heaps of bricks with narrow roadways cut through the rubble. Even the railway tracks were strewn with the rubble and obviously the train could only move when workmen had cleared a length of track, so the journey was taking a very long time. Eventually we passed over a bridge and it looked to us that there was only one track in use, all the others being missing.
After getting over the bridge our train was put in a siding and as it was now getting dark, the whole train was floodlit end to end. The wagon was filled with airborne and air force people, officers and sergeants only and after I had managed to get the sliding door to open at my say so, it was decided that after darkness and before the almost full moon had risen, we would all escape. However it seemed that the Germans had forestalled our plan and would keep the train here until the moon had risen, so making it more difficult for any attempted escape. Then suddenly the train started to move again and slowly made its way into the country. "Come on then lads", I said "Its now or never." The sudden change of face surprised me. Every excuse for not making the attempt was beautifully explained and eventually after having had the door open for ten or fifteen minutes, I made the statement that I was going myself and invited anyone else who felt the urge. Finally when I had made it plain that I was serious, I was given one of the cans of food for myself. I rolled out on to the step board and shut the door behind me, then waited for a momentary train stop to enable me to drop onto the side of the track.
Although the train only travelled very slowly, it just would not come to a standstill. If I had been able to stand up and then jump off there would have been no trouble, but of course I hadn't forgotten the guards at each end of the train. To simply roll of the footboard onto the rocky "ballast" about 2 feet didn't appeal to me, so I continued waiting for an actual stop. Ironically, when the next halt did occur, it was at a level crossing and I found myself bathed in the light from awaiting vehicle, so could only do my dead-still act and hope that I had not been spotted. My thoughts raced and I imagined that the vehicle was an army type and that a phone call would warn of my position. This gave me the incentive to move under the wagon so that I was a lot nearer the ground and in mid track. I had just got myself into this position when the train actually came to a dead stop. I immediately let go and landed without shock onto the track, only to discover that I was in a station. The train moved on slowly, so I began to wonder if there would be sufficient clearance for me between the usual hanging chains at the ends of each carriage and the ground. Luckily after the first chain had cleared me I breathed a sigh of relief, only to be alerted again when two men on the platform above me came slowly, swinging an oil lamp up to apparently read the label on each wagon. Every time a gap passed over me the light shone directly on me. The only thing I could do was freeze. The train went on its way slowly leaving me bathed in the full light. There was some talk between the men but they didn't see me and after a minute or so, sauntered away.
I thankfully moved off the track into the safety of the platform cover, then moved to the nearest end of the station. The end of the platform marked the beginning of a coal unloading set of bays. I went past these and then turned right into a typical railway yard. I now strode on and had covered about 20 yards when to my horror realised there was a crowd of people assembled near the main gate of the station yard. I just kept on walking, hoping to give the impression I knew exactly where I was going, bearing in mind that I was still dressed in my airborne overall. I found myself walking through the edge of the crowd between one side of the gate and a building, which seemed to be a weigh station. No one seemed to notice as I passed through. I had cleared the crowd and turned left onto the first street before I heard a shout. I started to run and realised that there was a hedge in front of a "cul de sac" however I managed to force my way through the hedge, then bearing to my left generally towards the railway again. After crossing the track I continued on alongside a hedge and after a few minutes came to a narrow road where I turned left and then strode out. I had no map so decided to keep near the railway and get back to Osnabruck and then keep heading towards the battle area from which explosions and gunfire was an unfailing guide. Shortly after striding out I suddenly saw a man coming towards me. He also was striding out, he turned out to be in uniform also and as we passed I just growled, never slowed but kept up my pace. He did the same.
The road gradually turned towards the railway and a school came into view. It occurred to me that I may be able to get a wall map here, so having stopped, I carefully walked around the place to see if there was a caretakers house, but no, so I opened the unlocked door and went in. There were various maps stuck the walls and I chose a suitable one for myself and then left. A few minutes later I arrived at the railway crossing where I had probably been spotted. On the left there was a railway house and in the garden between the house and the track I could see an elaborate water well but after a furtive attempt didn't manage a drop. I wasn't thirsty and had no means of carrying water, but I would have been pleased to have topped up. I did manage to make some noise due to a squeaky handle on the bucket winder, so rather hurriedly made my departure. About 20 or 30 yards along this road there was a street on the right which ran parallel to the railway and without hesitation turned into it. On the left was a row of houses, each with a stretch of garden about 10 yards long to the street. All were attached to each other and on the right was a high fence guarding a variety of railway buildings and equipment, there was a sidewalk only on the same side as the houses. I had realised that to stop and ponder over things was a certain way to attract attention, so had got into the habit of always trying to give anyone the impression that I knew exactly what I was about. Consequently I strode into this street with an air of certainty, only to notice that there was a courting couple stood at the garden end of about the eighth house. At the same time I discerned that about three or four hundred yards ahead was a high brick wall blocking the end completely. As I went past the couple I noticed that he was in a uniform which I judged to be a railway man's. So after giving my usual grunt, carried on in the hope that there would be a way through, but I was not lucky. About 3 houses from the end, I turned in towards the house, as if I wanted to go in. After knocking a couple of times I turned away and strode back the way I had come. As I passed the couple again I grumbled to myself, as if I was in flaming temper. On reaching the end of the road I immediately turned right and soon cleared the village.
I didn't wish to get far away from the railway when I saw a worn track on my right. I took that path and this led me past a farm on my left. As the first signs of approaching dark began to show I thought of finding some sort of waterproof on which to rest my bones during the following day. So I decided to go into this farm in the hope of finding some waterproof material. There was no dog and as I approached the farmhouse everything was dead still. On the right of the track was a large broken down shed and sticking out from it was the end of a piece of tarpaulin sheet. It was very tough; I had difficulty in getting it free from the roof on which it had been nailed. In the process after making a fair amount of noise, I finally got a long strip about 18 inches wide and about 12 or 13 feet long, which I formed into a roll, but could not find anything to tie it up with. There had been no sign of life coming from the cottage, so I approached and on the other side saw the front door and could see into the room. On a table close to the window was a large glass jug full of milk. I carefully lifted the snick of the door and found it was unlocked. After opening the door I could hear lusty snoring from above. I went inside, mainly to get the milk, which I took a big swig of straight away, then looking round I saw a coat and hat hung up behind the door. These I immediately claimed and then after closing the door made my way out of the vicinity, before pausing to change into my newly acquired dress. The tarpaulin was a trouble because it continually kept trying to unroll itself.
As dawn was now quite near I decided to go to ground and after searching couldn't find an ideal place in which to stop for the day so had to settle for a thin area of trees and make myself as inconspicuous as possible. Very shortly after lying down and hopefully sleeping, I heard the sounds of children awakening and realised that a large building at one side of the wood was another school. It seemed hopeless for me to be undetected all day, so I moved away from that spot immediately. By this time it was quite light, so I had to get a move on to find an alternative place. On the other side of the railway I saw a village and between the village and the railway was a rubbish dump over the edge of sharp drop in land level. I had no alternative but to make for it and hope it would be suitable. It was a cold wet morning and after reaching the cover of this dump I unrolled my tarpaulin and realised what an unfortunate shape it turned out to be. If I sat on it with a flap against the side of the bank, I was protected underneath and back with about 2 feet sticking out beyond my feet. Finally I found the best I could do was to bring it up over my head and by lifting my legs up, so that only my legs were out in the rain. I can only be thankful that the weather was reasonably warm, so I didn't start the shivers. Facing me was a line of trees and then a large meadow at a lower level. Considering things, I had been lucky to find such a good spot. By now I was able to hear sounds from the village behind and to my left, I figured that even if somebody came to tip some rubbish over the bank they probably wouldn't see me.
The day went slowly on and I tried to open the tin of food I had been given, but although I battered it hard between two stones, it refused to give up its goodies. There were occasional bouts of rain, sometimes quite heavy and my spirits were not at their best, when quite suddenly I saw two boys making their way along the meadow beyond the trees and although I froze it was to late, they had spotted me. However, I kept absolutely still and could tell that there was some doubt in their minds and after looking hard in my direction they were still not sure. Finally they went back the way they had come. When they had gone, I moved to another part of the rubbish dump, the sounds coming from the village were quite near and to have moved away completely would have been undoubtedly wrong. I just sat there and hoped that the boys would do nothing about it. Night was coming nearer and as the dusk began to form my hopes rose. Suddenly the two boys and a grownup older man appeared furtively looking round as if they didn't want to be seen. They stopped and looked at the spot where I had previously been and I decided to make myself known to them. The older man had an attaché case with him and when the three of them had made their way to where I was. They tried to converse with me, but in a language not German but for once I failed to understand a single word they spoke. It was plain however that they wanted to help me and when the case was opened it contained food and a hot drink of ersatz coffee well sweetened. I had a very good meal indeed and felt like a new man again. I wrote down my name and home address for them and heartily shook hands with them all.
As it was now dark I walked a little way towards the village with them and then set of on my way to Osnabruck and all stations ahead! After walking on for about an hour, keeping fairly close to the railway I noticed that there were a lot of people on the other side of the track walking out of Osnabruck, obviously to escape from the bombing which they expected later in the evening. It seemed to me that they were walking on a good road, so I decided to cross over, I considered my civilian jacket and cap was sufficient to hide my identity. Sure enough when I joined the crowd but going the opposite way I didn't attract any attention whatsoever and I strode out confidently. Everything went well until I suddenly found myself going down a gentle incline towards the Railway Bridge that I had been across two nights ago. The path had closed in somewhat to form a kind of funnel, so if I suddenly turned round I'm sure that would have attracted some attention from the people coming towards me, so I had no option but to keep going. There were piles of bricks everywhere and as I came near to the bridge itself I saw an armed sentry. This rather perturbed me but I needn't have worried because I passed by without a challenge and found myself threading my way over the rubble inside the tunnel. In view of the mess under the track it was an absolute miracle that there was still one track still working. There was another sentry at the other side of the tunnel and I passed without a word, on to a scene, which looked like hell. Everywhere I looked there were gigantic heaps of rubble with a cleared path about 6 feet wide through it all. There were sounds of human beings actually living inside the awful mess. I could only follow the cleared path, which seemed to curve to the right, gradually getting a bit more clear as I left the bridge behind me.
Eventually, the damage got less and I came across the start of a large area of flats, with a few people walking about either on their way to an air raid shelter or coming out of one. They were all intent on their own business and I didn't have any worries, so kept up a sharp pace. As the density of housing and flats thinned towards the outskirts of the city, I came upon what looked like a medieval castle on my left, very much like a child's model, complete with twin roadways leading up to a road which then turned towards the castle proper. There was a space underneath which now formed the entrance to an air raid shelter. I walked on the low road and as I came near the entrance I could see a couple of bicycles propped up against the wall. There was the red illuminated air raid shelter sign and carefully shaded white light, but no sign of life at all. As I approached the entrance to the shelter I saw about half a dozen bicycles leaning against the wall of the shelter and one leaning against a roof support for an overhanging roof. At this point, without hesitation, I lifted the single bike and pushed it forward so as to do a quick mount and ride away at speed, only to fall over head over heals on top of the bike. I badly grazed my right hand as I hit the ground, also skinning my right leg. I picked myself up and ran away as fast as possible away from the scene, resolving to make sure that the next bike I fancied I would look for locking chains before attempting the change of ownership.
I was now on the outskirts of Osnabruck and the road ahead was clear so I quickly got into a marching mode. It was a fine night, the moon quite bright. I made good headway for about half an hour, when quite suddenly realised I was approaching a bridge over a waterway with a sentry on guard. I was getting used to such things by now and had made up a story of being an Italian officer going to meet his wife who was in Amsterdam. So I confidently strode on and even when the first guard challenged me, I trotted out my excuse, "Io Italiano non spracken see deutsche" and with a shrug of his shoulders he allowed me to pass. The guard at the other side must have assumed that I was ok and just nodded as I went past. I then began to enter an area where the road seemed to be heading through a quarrying region. There was no movement anywhere and headway was good then. After about an hour a few people began to approach and then pass by. Gradually more and more people did the same, then suddenly a large group of about one hundred came by, most of them carrying household goods in hand carts and on their shoulders. After almost getting through the group, a very tall German in a uniform, challenged me and after I had done my usual Italiano stunt, he scoffed and knocked my cap off and pointed to my hair. He let go with a lot of words of warning, which I only partly got the gist of. Finally he lost his patience and turned away to follow the group. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my way. About three or four minutes later as I approached a village, there was a large barn type building on my left leaving the road in deep shadow and to my horror saw a squad of about 50 German troops who evidently a moment before had just arrived. An officer and NCO were stood in front of the party, obviously just getting organised, the only thing I could do was to walk on the right hand side and go behind the two in full view of the squad. Nothing changed and I just walked on, although quaking in my shoes. After that it was plain that a large unit of Germans forces had just come to the village and were about to take it over. As I approached a fork in the road I passed a large group of civilians who were being read an announcement of some sort by an important looking officer. There was weeping and wailing from the women and children, it seemed to me that they were being ordered to evacuate. I of course could only continue on my way, quickly deciding to take the left fork.
On the apex of the fork, looking at the scene was a German officer, hands behind his back. Each side of the building were parked trucks in the shadow of each building. At first it looked as if I would simply pass on, but as I came closer to him but on the other side of the road, he suddenly came to life, pointed to me and said "Comanzee here!" My heart sank! I slowly walked across to him and he spoke to me. I gave my normal reply and once again my cap was knocked off. Again he pointed to my hair, then said something in German. I looked as dejected as possible, shrugged my shoulders and repeated my Italiano" verse. I got the impression he thought that I was a German deserter, but with my repeated "non spracken see Deutsche" we could get no further. He was getting impatient and finally, after about 5 minutes (to me about 5 hours) he really lost his temper, took his revolver out, and pointed it at my midriff. Then he made a slow statement to me; I could only get a vague meaning from him. He seemed to be saying to me "I believe that you are a deserter and you only pretend not to speak German, however I am going to count up to three and then pull this trigger and kill you." He then started to count eine, swei ---. I just looked at him and the revolver, trying to weigh up the possibility of attacking him before the end of the count. To my surprise he suddenly threw his arms up in despair, kicked me in the arse and I scuttled away like a frightened rabbit. I hadn't realised what a trying time I had gone through until I had reached the security of the open road again, here I just lay down on the large deeply grassed verge and took a few minutes to recover.
I soon started out again and could hear the sounds of war ahead, there was a good sprinkling of people coming towards me but I had no fear of them at all now, but the numbers were increasing, also the occasional military vehicle, but I went by unnoticed. As dawn approached I pondered whether it was wise to keep on going on the open road and decided to hide in a large plantation on the right. First I looked for some clean water, as we had always been warned not to drink from any stream until we had got near its source. After finding a stream dutifully followed it up a hill so as to be near its source, however I didn't get any after all because of obvious pollution. By this time I was fairly high up and had a very good view of the surrounding country. The day was going to be a good weather day; plenty of sunshine and warm, so I tried to settle down inside a heavy earth bank which had been built right around this pine forest. A really good place I thought, but after half an hour my efforts which had made me hot began to wear of until I was shivering with cold. I realised that the wind passing through the plantation and evaporating tons of moisture was also bringing the temperature down quite steeply, obviously I must move on. I decided to risk going on to the road again but of course now in broad daylight and after returning to the road and striding out again, a German military vehicle went slowly past me. It didn't appear to take any notice of me and this gave my moral a big boost. A bit later on as I approached a farm bike on my right, I saw an old man leaning over the half door. Without hesitation I altered my track and walked straight up to him and asked "havati munjary ?" He was quite amiable and beckoned me into the barn, which incidentally was spotlessly clean in spite of the fact that there were several cows inside opposite the living quarters. I was given a really good feed by the family even though not able to converse. After an hour I thanked them as best I could and continued onwards. My confidence was now at its height and I again strode out towards the war noises ahead. On cresting a high point on the road, I could see for some miles ahead and in the distance was a large motorised column coming towards me. I considered it a bit too risky to try and walk past such a strong force, so as there was a fairly large wood about a half a mile ahead, decided to take cover it until I had heard the column go past.
So after going in to the forest I went along a path away from the road and eventually stopped when I heard the sounds of children playing and could see that there was a house at the other side of where the children played. At that I decided to stop and sit down quietly until the column had gone. I chose a spot about two or three yards from the pathway and against the trunk of a large tree, made myself comfortable and relaxed. I was roughly facing the house. I could see the children playing with a ball until the mother came outside and gathered them in. There was quiet for about five minutes before mother and the two children came out together and then started to move generally in my direction. At first I just looked until it was apparent that they were coming along the same path that I had been following, so as they got nearer I just froze, hoping they would pass by without seeing me. The children were still throwing the ball about and they had come level with me and passed me when one of the little girls ran off the path looking for the ball. She suddenly saw me, gave out a scream and ran to her mother who quickly came over to confront me. I just continued to sit and do nothing, I gave my usual speech about being an Italiano and couldn't speak German. She was kindly looking woman of about 30 and tried to speak to me, but of course I couldn't carry on any conversation except in my limited Italian, always being careful to avoid English. She seemed to accept my story about being an Italian worker and made it plain that she would be only too happy to go back to the house and get me some food. Although I was not hungry, I never let an offer of food go without acceptance. This had become a firm habit during my various wanderings. Eventually the woman and the two children returned to the house. I was left wondering if she might ring up some official to report me, but somehow I felt that she was genuine. Sure enough after about ten minutes the three of them came out of the house and brought quite a good feed, with a flask of hot coffee, then after thanking them, they moved of in their original direction, leaving me on my own again After leaving me they went towards the main road and I saw them turn right, before loosing sight of them. I then followed, but aimed to meet the main road about a 100 yards to the left.
By now the column of military vehicles had passed and when I got to the road there was only the odd few vehicles to contend with which were spread out widely. Every time I met a car or truck I obviously looked so much part of the scene that I was unnoticed. I soon began to feel on top of the world. Even when I saw a cluster of military vehicles I just kept on going and didn't raise an eyebrow from the Germans. From the map I had pilfered from the schoolroom five miles the other side of Osnabruck, I figured that if I could cross the Ems waterway, then I would be fairly certain to meet the allied front line before long, so that was my aim. Twilight was coming, but no sign of the Ems and then I did come across a canal but it was in an east-west direction so not the one I required. However it was heading towards the noise of war and the bank provided a good walking surface. Even after all light had disappeared, I was able to keep going because of the reflection from the surface of the water. Before the moon came up it was absolutely pitch dark. When I came level with a lone cottage from which there was the sound of voices, I could not help but sit down on the low windowsill and just luxuriate in the sounds of human beings. There were a few chinks of light leaking from the blackout curtains, but I enjoyed being there for a time. The canal eventually curved to the right and not in the direction I wished to take so I reluctantly left it behind. At first it was too dark to carry on, so I sat down, to wait for the moon to rise. The noise of war was getting very loud now and I began to pass through the German positions, luckily they were far too busy to notice me. Eventually I found myself in the thick of them and I thought it was about time that I should have reached the Eros, but no sign of any water, only light scrub which wouldn't hide a rabbit. I began to feel very nervous indeed, here I was in a very forward position in a doubtful sort of dress and seemingly surrounded with German troops everywhere. Then to make matters worse, dawn began to show. I searched for a likely hiding place to spend the day ahead, but all there seemed to be was light scrub and finally in desperation opted to use a large tree with big limbs feeding into the ground and forming a kind of a trench. I quickly gathered as much camouflage in the shape of twigs and loose leaves as possible before being spotted by one of the Germans and rather nervously sealed into my "Hide".
My position was about five or six yards to the right of the last track I had been using and at a lower level. Only minutes after settling down, I heard a party of Germans come quite near and then there were sounds of digging and much talking, then the sound of motor vehicles moving about, more digging and more talk. Then there was the sound of planes overhead and shooting followed by the sound of planes diving down. There was a sudden outburst of machine gun fire, then a scream of bombs dropping and a series of explosions as one plane followed another amidst a barrage of machine gun fire. All I could do was to keep dead still and hope not to be seen by the Germans all about me. Shortly after the first bombing, I heard another lot of planes arrive, followed by another dive bombing attack like the first, then another and another. All the time I could hear the Germans talking as if they were only a yard away. The bombing went on all day and I lost all hope, just managing to take out a photograph of my wife Joan and my mother and speak to them to say goodbye.
I believe that I must have lost consciousness, because I had been laying on my back all day and suddenly looked up and saw a figure standing over me pointing a rifle with a bayonet at my chest, then realised it was an English soldier. "Don't shoot" I shouted, "I'm English!" "Who the bloody hell are you and for Christ's sake how did you get here?" he shouted. I stood up and quickly assured him that I was an Englishman. I saw that they were part of an infantry unit who were sweeping these thin woods. He called out to his officer, who came over to me and made sure that I was in fact an Englishman. I had only a minute to look back at my hiding place and see that behind and slightly to the side there was a heavy tank. It had been placed in a large hole so that only the barrel of its gun was visible; the top of the tree had been blown away. There were a number of German tanks bearing the signs of direct hits, tracks missing and in all sorts of topsey turvey positions, a few on fire and signs everywhere of a great battle. I personally was quite dizzy and felt that I had dreamed it all. My appearance right in the middle of an infantry front line sweep rather disorganised things and the officer in charge of the unit was anxious to get moving forwards again. They had already wirelessed a message back about my appearance and very quickly a Provost Sergeant appeared to escort me back to an advanced Dressing station. I could see from where I had been hiding, the land sloped towards a bank, which was about ten or fifteen feet high. After we had climbed this bank, I was greeted with a very big surprise, as the land began to fall again towards the canal, which I had tried to reach the night before.
The ground in front was completely covered with hundreds of heavy allied tanks which had crossed over a Bailey Bridge and which had been the subject of the day long aerial attack by the remains of the Luftwaffe. I could see a number of crash sites, but at this time the only aircraft flying overhead were definitely allied and lots of them. The Provost Sergeant and I had to literally thread our way through the masses of tanks which were very close together on the German side of the bridge, even though there were at least a hundred across, more were still crossing the bridge. The noise of machine guns, shell fire and bombing from seemingly hundreds of fighters and fighter-bombers was unbelievable and we had some difficulty in negotiating the bridge at the same time in that more tanks were coming towards us. The advanced dressing station was about a hundred yards to the left of the bridge and although it was plain that I was genuine, none the less, I was kept under strict guard while awaiting further interrogation. After meeting a few bods from Sheffield and exchanging remarks my guard relaxed and we quickly became friends. He was then given an order to interrogate a new batch of German prisoners and he invited me to accompany him. The callous way he dealt with these prisoners rather sickened me when he took their photographs of their loved ones, spat at them, then tore the pictures to shreds and threw them away. Although I objected, it made no difference to him.
While this was going on, the bombing and strafing by the allied planes was in full swing and they were being controlled by an RAF jeep which was tucked in the side of a large barn. They had special aerials and radio gear. When I got near to them I could hear the conversations between pilots of the attacking planes and the ground crew, who were seeing the targets from a different perspective and correcting small errors of direction. The Germans just didn't have a chance. On returning to the ADS to await further instructions I had a good talk with all the incoming wounded troops and met a few who were from my own home town of Sheffield. One man in particular I will never forget. He walked in under his own steam and he had been shot in the chest. To prove it he took his shirt of and there sure enough was a bullet hole in the front and a hole in his back where the bullet had emerged. He was without any pain and treated the incident as a joke! After being questioned by a number of intelligence officers, I learned that I could best get back to England if I made my way to unit located in Amsterdam. I decided to hitch hike my way there and having been given some identification papers, duly set off the next morning. The military traffic was very heavy and it was almost an unspoken rule that hitchhikers in uniform were automatically given a lift. After a few short rides, I stopped a large tank carrier who said he was going to Amsterdam and of course I went the rest of the journey with him. He even went out of his way to get to the aerodrome, which was my reporting point.
The activity on the Amsterdam aerodrome was absolutely fantastic; fighter planes were landing, filling up with fuel and ammunition and taking of again as fast as possible, seemingly eager to get back into the fighting. The shear number of them was amazing. There were great piles of four-gallon cans of fuel marked 130 octane scattered about the service area and everyone seemed to be concentrating on giving the fastest turn round, an unforgettable sight! I managed to get the promise of a flight back to England the next day, so found myself with some time to waste and decided to go into the city. It was easy to get a lift into Amsterdam and my lift giver gave me a long tour of the city. The outstanding thing, which I remember well, was to travel past a very large factory, which had lots of large glass areas, and hardly any of which were broken. Obviously our bombers must have given them a very wide birth during the bombing program. I learned later that it was the Philips factory. Another thing I particularly remember was the large number of children in groups being escorted by Nuns. Of course life in Amsterdam was far from being normal and I was glad to get back to the aerodrome again and glad to go to bed in comfort and a pleasant glow in my mind. The next morning after a good breakfast, I was given details of the flight back to Croydon in England and didn't have any time except ablutions before boarding a Dakota and "on my way home". I remember that although most of the people aboard were senior officer ranks, there was no talking, everyone obviously taking notice of the signs which were posted everywhere "Loose Talk Costs Lives".
On arriving at Croydon I reported to an Intelligence Officer and in a short tithe found myself on the way to Whitehall MI 9. Then after a day of questions, went to The Grand Central Hotel for the night. This was the second time I had been domiciled at this place and enjoyed the experience again. The following day after another stint of questioning at MI9, I was given a travel warrant to go home to Sheffield. After sending a telegram to let my wife Joan know which train and time to meet me at the Midland Station, I made my way to St Pancras Station and boarded a badly overcrowded train. I wasn't worried with the crowding, so long as I was on my way home. At Leicester there was a dramatic reduction of passengers, so I was grateful to at last obtain a seat, but soon afterwards the train slowed down and then stopped due to an engine failure, so there was no further movement for over 2 hours. Strangely I was content to wait until a replacement engine had been brought and then shunted into position. As the replacement engine must have been a lower powered one, the rest of the journey was at a slower pace. This enabling me to savour the delight of seeing the country and the crooked spire of Chesterfield go slowly past, then the passage through Millhouses park and finally into Midland station and home. My wife Joan, my mother and sister were there to meet me and for the first time for a long period I experienced a yearning to cry in gratitude for finally being home.
When I arrived at 50 Oxford St, Joan's mother's house, there was a telegram from Smithy's wife asking if I could ring her if I had any news of her husband. He was one of the men who had been riddled with bullets on the way across the field to the large barn, near where we had landed. I just couldn't tell her what had actually happened, but tried to ease her anguish as best I could. For some time in spite of being home I couldn't shake off the feeling that it was all a dream. A good percentage of the crews from "B" Squadron, about 50% had got back to England more or less straight away and they were quite pleased to see my belated return to hear my account of what had happened to Smithy and others. My personal kit, which I had left in the care of quartermaster's store, had been opened and because of being posted missing in action it had been looted. The people concerned were rather upset when I turned up! I stayed for the night and had a long talk with Major Toler my CO and told him all I knew of missing personnel. The next day I headed under my own steam back to Sheffield. I had been granted 6 weeks leave and as it seemed fairly obvious that the war was in its last phase, I decided to look around for premises in which to start in business on my own. My aspirations at that time were to start in the motorcycle game, build up a machine-shop and in my spare time manufacture a special type Swashplate engined motorcar which I had designed whilst in Sulmona POW camp.
Reproduced by kind permission of John Parker and Mark Hickman (www.pegasusarchive.org.uk)Read More