Fort XIII (Wild, David. Prisoners of hope. 1992. London)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Not typical "crime" of Gunner Hugh C Bone, Royal Artillery, 51st HD

Last weekend of may we were guides for Evelyn and Wighton Clark. It was pleasure to show them places connected with Stalag XXA. Below we are showing a resume from trip of footprints of gunner Hugh C Bone.

The day after the BBC’s television coverage commerating  the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of the BEF at Dunkirk, there was a programme shown relating to those soldiers who were left behind in Normandy, in the main the 51st Highland Division, a Division who along with the French helped hold back Rommel’s Panzers  in order to allow the evacuation to take place. Their understanding was that they would be evacuated too.

During that t.v. programme, I listened to POWs recount their experience of battle and incarceration in Stallag XXA in Poland and for the first time I had an insight into what my father had been through from 1940 to 1945. From then on I wanted to find out as much as I could.  This was extremely difficult, as like the majority of POWs my dad never spoke to us about it and everyone who might have been able to answer my questions had sadly passed, apart from my dad’s older sister. 

I asked my aunt what she knew about this period of his life and she said practically nothing, as he was unable to speak about his experience when he got home.  Her memory was of him sitting for long periods of time staring into the fire lost in his thoughts -  a different young man from the one who went away to war. She said “he was 21 when I walked him through Glasgow to Central Station to be transported somewhere in England for training and it was 5 years later before I saw him again”.  She knew he had intervened when a guard pulled his gun on a prisoner for rejecting the food he was given. The prisoner had apparently thrown the bowl to the ground.  Also, he had been operated on without an anaesthetic, albeit it was minor surgery but very uncomfortable none the less. 

I do recall asking dad about what happened at St Valery when the decision to surrender was announced.  His reply was “we sat down and waited on Rommel arriving”, end of conversation, typical dad!

Thanks to Hania and Pawel I have now gleaned important facts about him personally. On their web site, I found my dad’s name on a list of prisoners who were court martialed and sent to a hard labour camp north of Torun.   I can only presume that this relates to his intervention when the guard threatened to shoot a prisoner.  Hania felt this was feasible, as an example would have had to be made of his “crime”.  Visiting Fort XI and seeing where he was likely held prior to being transported was mind blowing - how did these young men survive these awful conditions?

I am now 99.9% sure he was on The Long March.  I knew he was marched, I just presumed this was from St Valery to Poland,  a difficult enough one without the 3 months of utter torture that was still to come.  This also explains his inability to eat lettuce or anything resembling it!  A man who truly appreciated you making him a nice meal would comment if you left just one little bit of leaf on broccolli, that‘s how sensitive he was about the legacy of trying to surrive on what was available to eat whilst being marched, not a lot!

I would like to be able to contribute to Hania and Pawel’s historical account of what took place in Stallag XXA.  Sadly I cannot, this makes me even more grateful to them and their colleagues who help keep this account of WW2 alive. Thanks to Wartime Guides and the museum, I am able to pull together some important information and photographs and pass these on to his grandchildren, who hopefully will appreciate just exactly what this quiet and shy young man went through in order to help fight oppression and fascism and survived.

Many, many thanks Hanai and Pawel.  We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to beautiful Gothic Torun and the tour with you.

Evelyn Clark 
In the "gallery" of Fort XI

The found of wooden huts

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