reserved by Albert Clack
The first indication that we
were in trouble was when a group of civilians appeared from the
biggest house, first waving their arms in the air, then holding
them high above their heads. In a moment we were surrounded by
German soldiers. The position was obviously hopeless, so our
NCO told us to surrender, and we threw down our rifles.
For the first time I heard
myself being given orders by a German, and it got right up my
nose. I had no idea that obeying the orders of German guards
was now to be my life for almost five years, until the far-off
winter of 1944-45, when Uncle Joe Stalin's gigantic, avenging
Red Army would roll inexorably across Poland into Germany and
finally liberate me and thousands of other British prisoners-of-war
from our long nightmare of captivity and hard labour.
With an array of rifles pointing
at us, we had no alternative but to obey. A German officer told
us to line up along the roadside, where his soldiers searched
us for hidden weapons. They took our bayonets, threw them against
a wall, and broke them.
Left with only the haversacks
in which we had carried our gas masks, we were marched away from
that fateful road junction towards an unknown destiny. Although
we felt very dejected, we tried to march with our heads held
high, as though we were still marching with the British Army;
but with German soldiers constantly jeering, it was difficult
to keep up the bravado all the time.
What we had no inkling of,
while we were thus being herded away from our home country and
towards Nazi Germany, was the chaotic nightmare taking place
just a short distance away on the beaches at Dunkirk, and the
heroic rescue by civilian boat owners of so many thousands of
our comrades, cut off from land retreat by encircling German
At long last we halted near
a wall around a church and its graveyard. The town we had arrived
in was Ypres: we had crossed the border from France into Belgium.
We were searched again, and the Germans stole whatever valuables
they found, such as watches and rings.
We were made to stand with
our backs to the wall, and we could hardly fail to notice that
it was already pockmarked with bullet-holes; so it looked as
if we were going to be shot there and then. It was up against
that church wall in Ypres that I learned the real meaning of
fear: my mouth went completely dry, I was unable to swallow,
sweat ran down my face into the corner of my mouth.
For a whiIe I thought my life
was going to end outside that church. Little did I know that
it was to be at another church, far, far away to the east, that
my life was to destined to be restored to me, 56 seemingly interminable
months later, by the Russians; by which time I would even have
learned some of their language, in circumstances I could not
There was, of course, no firing
squad, otherwise I would not be writing this. Instead, the German
officer who had captured us, and who had accompanied us thus
far, told us with a swagger: "You are going to Berlin, but
not in the way you had thought."
He then handed us over to another
German officer who had appeared from behind the church. They
took us into the church, and told us we could sit down, and that
we were going to spend the night there. The officer who had captured
us declared: "Tommy, for you the war is over."
The arrogance of his words
and his manner put some steel back into my spirit, and I silently
vowed to prove him wrong: somehow I would ensure that for me
the war would not be over, and that in some small way I would
find opportunities to carry on the fight against the Nazis and
their evil creed.
For the time being, I knew
that I was 'in the bag'; but at that moment, in that church in
Belgium, I promised myself that, if ever it should prove humanly
possible, someone, somewhere, was going to pay for my liberty
having been taken away. Later in this story I shall tell how
two very nasty pieces of work, both members of Hitler's Nazi
Party, were indeed made to pay - with their lives.
reserved by Albert Clack