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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thanks this trip we've discovered new facts about POW from Stalag XXA in 1945

That was wonderful trip. During three days we saw couple of places connected with POW path of Jack Stansfield. Moreover thanks his son Michael we saw notes with memories of last days in Stalag XXA in Torun. In opposit to all facts which says that prisoners left camp in late december 1945 Jack wrote that they started to march on 21 january! That means that lasts groups of POW left camp in 10 days before Torun was liberated. Fortunatley Jack survived afeter he escaped from march. He met russians army and polish partizants. Below we presents you short memories about Jack and trip to Poland...

My father was called Jack Stansfield, he was born in August 1918. He was brought up in the market town of Malton in North Yorkshire where his parents were publicans. He joined the Territorial Army in March 1939 and was mobilised on the declaration of war. Jack enlisted in his local regiment joining the 5th Battalion of the Green Howards. After a short time at the Regimental HQ in Richmond, North Yorkshire the battalion moved to a training base in the Cotswolds near Chipping Campden where he was promoted to Corporal. The battalion then moved to Northern France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. 

In mid May 1940 Jack’s Company were assigned to provide protection for the bridges over the River Dendre near Ath in Belgium.  On the 19th May a rearguard contingent consisting of 80 men of D company was told to withdraw as their presence was not halting the German advance and they were in danger of being overrun.  Glad to be offered a lift in a Bren Gun Carrier Jack was told by the driver to crouch behind the armour plating.  A short while later the vehicle was hit by an anti tank shell, Jack and another soldier were thrown clear but the driver and the rest of the section were killed. He recalled his first thought was of needing to find his rifle, this was short-lived as he found himself staring into the barrel of a rifle with a German soldier was telling him to put his hands up.  So began his life as a Prisoner of War.

Like the majority of former POW’s Jack rarely talked about his time as a prisoner. As a child we I knew which camps he had been in. I learnt that he had initially been made to work building a harbor wall near Gdynia and that he spent much of the war working on German Farms.  My Grandmother told me that his family had been told he was missing in action and that they actually only found out that he was alive and had been captured when Lord Haw Haw had read out his name rank and number during one of his infamous broadcasts. His survival was later confirmed by the Red Cross.
 Jack died in 1990. About two years before his death he sat in front of the coal fire at home one evening and without any apparent reason started to  talk calmly about his time at Stalag XXa at Torun and Stalag XXb at Malbork, he knew them by their German names of Thorn and Marienburg.  He described the underground forts and the experiences working on a farm. He spoke about the Red Cross Parcels and parcels from home. Most important to him was the camaraderie amongst “the boys” who would look after each other.  I recall a story about swift removal of a British prisoner by the German authorities following a request from the prisoners. This man had been caught stealing from his mates the consequences of which were very quickly averted by the request to move him out of the camp. 

Jack spoke about his friend Tom Marquis, a professional soldier from the Royal Engineers who he met shortly after being taken prisoner and with whom he remained throughout the war and who was a close friend throughout his life.

He then told of evacuation of Stalag XXa on the 21st January 1945. We heard about the  unbelievable cold and the long marching column of prisoners.  He told us about their decision to escape from the column and how they hung to the rear, hiding in a snow filled ditch.  They managed to evade the panicking Germans and met up with other prisoners who were hiding in the cellars of  village buildings hoping to be liberated by the advancing Russian forces. He spoke of how their lives were saved by a young Polish boy who convinced the Russians soldiers that they were British POW’s not as they believed  Germans. This averted their certain death, Jack went on to describe how six German prisoners taken by the Russians were shot dead in front of the group. He spoke of the atrocities carried out by the retreating Germans who were murdering women and hanging their violated bodies from telegraph poles near the town of Naklo.  He told us he had been taken to Warsaw where he spent three weeks and that he had returned to the UK from Odessa via the Suez Canal. He arrived in Malton, his hometown on 2nd April 1945.

It was only after Jacks death that amongst his personal papers we found that between the 20th and 29Th January 1945 he had kept a daily diary of these events, these notes were written in pencil on pieces of card.   Scans of these notes are set out below and it was after reading these notes that motivated myself and my son Jamie to look at the possibility of  travelling to Poland and visiting all the places he had talked about.

Stalag XXB

Thanks to the Internet we were able to make contact with Pawel and Haniah through their blog “Wartime Guides”.  Without their knowledge and dedication to the preservation of the heritage of the Prisoner of War camps in Torun we would not have been able to experience what remains from that time but also to be given an insight and understanding into the suffering imposed on the Polish people and the historical context of that period.  Perhaps this was the most important part of our visit as we began to understand that as PoW’s the Geneva Convention provided a level of protection that the Polish people did not have. Having provided Pawel with as much information about Jack’s time in Poland he was able to put together an itenery which lasted three full days. We visited the forts at Torun, spent time in the bunker deep underground in Fort XI with the graffiti on the walls still there 70 years after the last POW had served his time for misbehavior.

Many of the authors recorded their crimes on the wall and were very forthright in their views about their captors.  It is vital that somehow this site is preserved.  
In front of living history

We stood on the railway platform onto which the prisoners were detrained before being marched to their new home. We were shown the former military hospital in the centre of Torun and visited the small museum in the basement of the secondary school that has been put together by a few very dedicated Poles who want to preserve the memory for future generations. This was full of artifacts each with their own story, it is such a pity that it is not available to the many visitors who visit Torun every year,
In Historical - War Museum

We were able to drive the route of the first two days of the evacuation the journey that became known as the  as the death march.  We visited the town Museum in Naklo nad Noteicia and were given a guided tour by a very knowledgeable guide. It was here we discovered that the murdered women described by Jack were from a local work camp and had been employed building last minute defences against the advancing Russians. 
Tragedy of Polish people during the war

We went to Szubin, the site of Oflag 64  that  was used by the Russians as a transit camp for allied soldiers picked up in their advance.  Jack described being on guard duty at the camp gate, and then falling asleep having drunk too much Woadka! Jamie and I were able to stand in exact place where the main gate stood, it is now the site of the memorial.  The curator of the museum at Szubin had done a lot of research prior to our visit and was able to provide more information about the events at that time.  The site of the camp is now an institution for young offenders.  There is one remaining hut which is now derelict and unfortunately due for demolition.   It was a privilege to be invited into the institution and meet some of the young men who had produced a scale model of the camp as it was in 1945, they were, quite rightly, very proud of their efforts. The model is to become a centerpiece of an exhibition about the history of the town.

In place of main gate to the camp

Our trip to Malbork through the Polish countryside left Jamie and I wondering if we were passing the site of a farm where Jack had worked. We visited the site of the Stalag XXb sub camp at  Gnojewo  where there is a memorial to those prisoners who spent their time in the work camps and farms.

A memorial marks the site of Stalag XXb; local people demolished the camp after the war to provide wood to build their own houses.  Malbork Castle is a world heritage site, the immense damage it suffered from the Russian artillery is now only visible in photographs; the restoration is amazing.

Our final visit was to the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Malbork where lie the graves of those boys who did not make it home. We had a very poignant few minutes as we wandered around and read their names and ages.
Memories don't leave like people do...

This visit answered many of our questions but also raised countless others. It gave a new perception on the events of that time and a visual perspective on places we had only read or heard about in the past. It was at times a very emotional visit, yet never sad.  Jack always spoke about his respect for the Polish people, he talked about their hardships yet described how they would share their food and water without question.  He was always indebted to the Polish boy who by shouting “Churchill, Churchill” at the Russian soldiers stopped them  opening fire on the group and clearly saved their lives.  

As the family of one of those men was PoW and spent five years of his life as a PoW we are indebted to Pawel and Haniah for their dedication to preserving the memory of those who spent time in their country. Their knowledge and guidance both in the preparation of our visit and during our short time in Poland made it such an amazing experience.  We are now researching in the National Archive for information about Jack’s time in Warsaw and his transit to Odessa. We are trying to find the dates that Jack spent in both Stalags and any record of the farms he worked on.  We suspect that some the information is long lost but we will try to gather as much information as we can.

We also want to help preserve the legacy of those whose lives were changed forever by the events of 1939-1945 and in particular to support Pawel and Haniah in preserving  the memory for those who never came home.

No comments:

Post a Comment