Coigach Folk

COIGACH'S SACRIFICE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR


Page 09

PRISONERS OF WAR

Following the Battle of Abbeville and during their retreat to the coast in an attempt to evacuate to England, the 2nd and 4th Seaforth Highlanders, 4th Cameron Highlanders, 1st and 5th Gordon Highlanders and the 4th Black Watch fought determinedly at Arques-la-Bataille and a few days later at St Valéry-en-Caux. But they were completely surrounded, out of ammunition and supplies, and were overwhelmed by the 7th Panzer Division under the command of General Erwin Rommel and ordered to surrender on 12th June 1940. These regiments have St Valéry-en-Caux as a Battle Honour.

The surrender was the start of five years of captivity. The men were required to march at least 16 miles a day and it took 16 days to reach the railhead at Hulst in Holland. Food was in very short supply and the prisoners relied on hand-outs from French and Belgian villagers. The men slept in fields with no cover. From Hulst, the troops were transported in open railway wagons to Valsoorden, where they embarked onto barges for a journey up the Rhine into Germany. They disembarked at Wesel and were sent by train to the prison camps. For most of the men of the 51st Highland Division, the next five years were a time of frustration, boredom and hardship.

Despite the harsh circumstances in which the men were living, the regimental spirit of the Highland Regiments helped maintain morale. Music played a strong part in this. The well-known Scottish country dance, ‘The Reel of the 51st Highland Division’ was created by Highland officers held as Prisoners of War.


Approximate route of march from St Valery-en-Caux to the Rhine, June 1940.

It has so far been ascertained that the men from Coigach were imprisoned in the following camps, not necessarily for all of the five years of captivity:

Stalag XX-A at Torun (Thorn)
Stalag XX-B at Marienberg,
Stalag XX-1D at Posen (Poznan)
Stalag VIIIB (later called 344) at Lamsdorf (Labinowice)
Stalag VIIIB was located at Teschen from 1943 to 1945
Stalag 357, at Torun; from August 1944 at Oerbke, Lower Saxony.

Stalag XX-A was not a single camp and contained as many as 20,000 prisoners at its peak. The main camp was located in a complex of 15 forts that surrounded the city of Torun (Thorn).

Extract from: an article in 51st Highland Division website by Henry Owens – Gunner Artificer, Royal Artillery

Stalag XX-B was a bleak, forbidding camp on the outskirts of Marienburg, with the usual double wire fencing, lookout towers, and floodlighting. It housed many prisoners of all nationalities, in different compounds, and had a look of despair about it. We were allocated to a long hut with three tiers of bunks and an earth floor. We soon realised it was overrun with rats.”

1940 at Stalag XXB, predominantly Seaforth Highlanders, courtesy of Ullapool Museum.

Stalag XX1-D : In Poznań itself, three forts were used to house Prisoners of War; Rauch, IIIA and VIII.


 

Extract from The Prisoner of War, September 1942 – published from 1942 until 1945 for families in Britain.

Stalag VIIIB: This camp, in Silesia, is the largest prisoner of war camp in Germany. About 270 work detachments are administered from it. There are some 20,000 British prisoners of war in the whole camp area, of whom 5,700 are in the base camp.

The base camp is composed of rows of one-storeyed barracks, each with a wash room and running water. The barracks are of stone, built directly on the ground, which makes them rather cold in winter. There are large playing fields and room for vegetable and gardens. The men sleep on 3-tiered wooden bunks, with wool stuffed palliasses and have two blankets each. Lighting has improved since the last visit, and bathing facilities are quite in order. Except for the Medical Officers there are no officers in the camp.


Shipments of clothing have recently been received, but there is still need for battledress. There is a gymnasium, and the prisoners of war play football, box, and have wireless and picture shows. A school has been arranged, which some 800 students attend every day.

Four chaplains attend to the religious needs of the prisoners and are allowed to visit work detachments and men under arrest. Eleven British doctors and 39 medical orderlies work in the infirmary.”

Extract from The Prisoner of War – February 1944Stalag 344

The camp conditions have seriously deteriorated and strong representations have been made to the German Government on the conditions both in the main camp and in many of the work camps.

The transfer of over 5,000 British prisoners to Stalag from Italy has further crowded this already overcrowded camp. There are now 13,000 men in the main camp. The others are distributed in 300 odd work camps. Every available barrack, including the church and the school, is in use to afford sleeping space for these men in the main camp. The shortage of blankets is acute. It is obvious that washing, bathing and toilet facilities must be quite inadequate for the demands made on them.”

Stalag 357: In November 1944 British paratroops captured at Arnhem arrived at this camp. Led by RSM John C Lord of 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, they set about raising the standards of the camp. Lord insisted on proper military discipline with regular exercise and parades. At that time 17,000 prisoners of war, mostly British, but also Russian, Polish, Yugoslav, French, and American prisoners were crammed into the camp causing severe overcrowding. Each hut contained 400 men, though it had bunks for only 150. By February 1945 the POWs were suffering from lack of food and medical supplies exacerbated by the influx of several hundred American POWs captured in the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Nordwind.

20th January 1945 – Stalag XX-A was evacuated
22nd January 1945 – Stalag 344 at Lamsdorf, Silesia, was evacuated.
23rd January 1945 – Evacuation began at Stalag XX-B at Marienberg, Danzig
16th April 1945 - Stalag 357 prisoners were liberated.

THE LONG MARCH

In January 1945, as the Soviet armies resumed their offensive and advanced into Germany, the Nazis made the decision to evacuate the PoW camps to prevent the liberation of the prisoners by the Russians. About 30,000 prisoners were force-marched westward across Poland and Germany in appalling winter conditions, lasting about four months. The first two months of 1945 were among the coldest winter months of the twentieth century, with blizzards and temperatures as low as –25 °C.

Most of the PoWs were ill-prepared for the evacuation, having suffered years of poor rations and wearing clothing ill-suited to the appalling winter conditions.

Each Stalag was responsible for co-ordinating the movement of PoWs at the outlying Arbeitkommandos (work camps) as well as those at the main camp. They marched in small columns following side roads to villages where they could find accommodation at the end of each day.

Movements of Prisoners of War in Germany, 1944-45
 

In most camps, the PoWs were actually broken up in groups of 250 to 300 men and because of the inadequate roads and the flow of battle, not all the prisoners followed the same route. The groups would march 20 to 40 kilometres a day - resting in factories, churches, barns and even in the open. Soon long columns of PoWs were wandering over the northern part of Germany with little or nothing in the way of food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

With so little food they were reduced to scavenging to survive. Some were reduced to eating dogs and cats - and even rats and grass - anything they could lay their hands on. Already underweight from years of prison rations, some were at half their pre-war body weight by the end. Because of the unsanitary conditions and a near starvation diet, hundreds of PoWs died along the way from exhaustion as well as pneumonia, diphtheria, and other diseases. Typhus was spread by body lice. Sleeping outside on frozen ground resulted in frostbite that in many cases required the amputation of extremities. In addition to these conditions were the dangers from air attack by Allied forces mistaking the PoWs for retreating columns of German troops.

As winter drew to a close, suffering from the cold abated and some of the German guards became less harsh in their treatment of PoWs. As the columns reached the western side of Germany they ran into the advancing British and American armies. For some, this brought liberation. Others were not so lucky. They were marched towards the Baltic Sea where Nazis were said to be using PoWs as human shields and hostages. It was later estimated that a large number of men had marched over five hundred miles by the time they were liberated, and some had walked nearly a thousand miles.

On 4th May 1945 RAF Bomber Command implemented Operation Exodus, and the first prisoners of war were repatriated by air. Bomber Command flew 2,900 sorties over the next 23 days, carrying 72,500 prisoners of war.

 

Liberated prisoners with an Avro Lancaster of No. 635 Squadron RAF at Lübeck, Germany, 11 May 1945.


COIGACH PRISONERS OF WAR

Sergeant Donald Fraser (2820079)  POW No. 16308

Born on 11th March 1909 at Achiltibuie. Enlisted 1st September 1939.  Previous occupation: Shepherd. Address Achiltibuie. 

He completed a General Questionnaire for British Ex-Prisoners of War on 9th May 1945: not wounded when captured at St Valéry en Caux on 12th June 1940.

Main camps in which imprisoned

XX-A Thorn, Poland from July 1940 to February 1943 (including a working camp at Konitz, Poland August 1940-March 1941 – builder’s labourer.
XX-A(5) Thorn, Poland from February 1943 to May 1944
357 Thorn, Poland from May 1944 to August 1944
357 Fallingbostel, Germany from August 1944 to April 1945357 Between Elbe and Oder April 1945 to 2nd May 1945.

Donald’s father Roderick (1869-1952) was a merchant.  His mother was Jean Macleod (1880-1960).  They married on 1st November 1906 at the Royal Hotel, Dingwall, both living in Glasgow at the time.

Siblings:
Dolina Margaret, Murdoch, Jessie (1908-1982), Sandy (died 1993 at Conon Bridge).

Donald married Anne Tinney in 1947 in Inverness – Ref: 098/A 188. He lived in Skye latterly but was buried in Badenscallie in 1968.


Photo:  Roddie Macpherson

Private Robert Graham (2820799) POW No. 6944

Born on 2nd June 1919. Home address: 103 Achiltibuie.  Previous occupation: Farm labourer.  Enlisted 22nd February 1937.

He completed a General Questionnaire for British Ex-Prisoners of War on 13th May 1945. He was not wounded when captured on 12th June 1940.

Main camps in which imprisoned:

XXI-D at Posen July 1940 to September 1944 - 
VIII-B at Teschen September 1944 to January 1945
Work camps: Posen July 1940 to April 1943 – Road building
Krotoshin April 1943 to January 1944 – Railway 
Pakosch January 1944 to September 1944 - Hemp factory 
Klausberg September 1944 to January 1945 - Coal mine.

Private Roderick (Roddie) Macdonald (2816982) POW No. 15455

Born on 28th December 1910 at Badenscallie.  His father, Alexander, a crofter and mother, Kate (née Macleod) were married on 1st January 1890 locally. Home address: 148 Badenscallie.  Previous employment: Farmer.

He completed a General Questionnaire for British Ex-Prisoners of War on 6th May 1945 in which he stated that he was not wounded when captured on 12th June 1940 at St Valéry en Caux.

Imprisoned at Stalag XX-B/39 from 1st August 1940 until 20th January 1945.  In a working camp at Marienburg, employed as a shoe maker.

After release on 11th May 1945 he returned home and married Joan Mackenzie. He died in 1994 aged 84, Ref. Coigach 190/4.

Thanks to his daughter Lesley, it has been possible to view a photocopy of a postcard sent from Stalag XX-B/39. It was written to Mr William Macleod of 152 Badenscallie, Achiltibuie, requesting that he “look round my home and see that the gates be locked and the shed. I am keeping on everything, get the sheep on the field it should keep them going the best part of the year, it will no do for me to let go …….”  

Private Hector Mackenzie (2820609) POW No. 16792 

Information has been provided by his son Hector Donald Mackenzie.

Hector was born on 23rd June 1917.  His parents were Angus (1864-1934) and Alice Macleod (1882-1970).  Imprisoned at Stalag 344.

Hector married Ethel Dorothy Edith Cima (1918-1996) in the March Quarter (i.e. Jan, Feb or March) of 1946 in Wandsworth (London) area, ref. 1d 609.

In 1934 Ethel was employed as a telephonist in London working for the Post Office. She was born on 28th March 1918, daughter of Arthur and Ethel Annie née Holliman.  1946 she lived at 73 Bangalore Street, Putney with her parents (before marriage to Hector).

Hector died on 11th November 1999 at Luton, Bedfordshire.

Further information regarding Hector, including extracts from tapes made by his son-in-law Kenny MacDonald can be found in APPENDIX B on page 17. 

 

L/Cpl Roderick (Roddie) Mackenzie (2818540)  POW No. 20564

Roderick was born on 1st January 1912 at Achiltibuie. His parents John and Jessie (née Macleod) had married on 26th March 1908 at Achiltibuie.

A telegram was not received by the family until February 1941 informing them that Roddie had been wounded and captured on the 4th June 1940, and was transferred to Stalag XXA on the 31st July from Stalag VID in Dortmund. His final camp was Stalag 344.

According to Roderick F Macleod, Roddie revealed that after he came home from four years ‘in a ghastly German prisoner of war camp’ he felt foolish and embarrassed as he stood watching Rommel pass along and he did not have a round to put up the spout of his rifle!

Roddie married Margaret Sybil Maclean in 1951 at Fodderty. They had two sons Ian and Roddie, a daughter Sybil who died aged 18 months, and another daughter, also Sybil who now lives in the south of England.

Roddie (senior) died in September 1979 aged 67 years. He is buried in Badenscallie Burial Ground. 



Photo:  Roddie Macpherson  

Private William George Mackenzie (Bobby) (2820287)  POW No. 126307

Son of Alexander Mackenzie and Margaret (née George) who had married on 1st September 1919 at The Conon Hotel, Conon Bridge. He was 26, she was 23.

The following information is provided by his daughter Ann Irvine: William was born in Strathpeffer on 28th March 1917, fourth of 10 children - his father served in the Police Force. He married Kate Ann Maclean from Harris on 9th April 1947. She became the district nurse.

Willie is the youngest child, sitting on mother’s lap with his older brothers Alastair, Norman and Iain.

Willie completed a ‘Liberated prisoner of war interrogation questionnaire’ which he signed on 28th April 1945. This gives exact details of his movements and conditions.

He enlisted with the Territorials on 28th March 1935. His previous occupation prior to WW2 was that of a Barman.  Address: Police Station, Achiltibuie.

Original capture St Valéry en Caux, 12th June 1940. Not wounded when captured.

He was held in Stalag XX-A from July 1940 until 1942, and Stalag XX-B from 1942 until 1945.  Throughout this period he was employed in a working camp.

XX-A September 1940-December 1940 – general labourer
XX-A March 1941-May 1941 – road making
XX-B 1942 - January 1945 – general labourer
Illness: Pleurisy 6 months – adequate medical treatment provided.

A recording of Willie’s POW experience, when he was interviewed in 2003, aged 86, can be found in APPENDIX C on page 18.


William Macleod (Boy)

This Prisoner of War has been identified by Fraser Muir.

William was born on 31st January 1909 at Achiltibuie, the elder brother of Donnie (Beag) Macleod who was killed in action in 1945.  His parents were Murdo, a fisherman, and Jane née Maclean.

He could be either:

Private W McLeod, 28210839, POW No. 19900, at Stalag XX-A, Torun, Poland or Private W McLeod 2815621, POW No. 14021, at Stalag XX-B, Malbork, Poland oPrivate W C MacLeod (2822653). POW No. 6762 at Stalag 344, Lamsdorf.

After the war ‘Boy’ survived to take up Board of Agriculture work in Skye.

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