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Copyright strictly 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 forces.

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 have imagined.

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.

Copyright strictly reserved by Albert Clack
 
 

 
 
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