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Lambeth to Lamsdorf:

Doug Hawkins’ War

Robin Green

Published by

An Imprint of Melrose Press Limited
St Thomas Place, Ely
Cambridgeshire
CB7 4GG, UK
www.melrosebooks.co.uk

FIRST EDITION

Copyright © Robin Green 2015

The Author asserts his moral right to
be identified as the author of this work

Cover designed by Melrose Books

ISBN 978-1-910792-14-8
epub 978-1-911280-92-7
mobi 978-1-911280-93-4

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

eBook conversion by Vivlia Limited.

Photograph of Dougie as a rookie at enlistment, aged 18

Foreword

In April 2009, I started to film interviews with Prisoners of War veterans on one of my biggest productions to date – ‘The Long March to Freedom’. On the first morning of a two-week long shooting schedule, our first of 40 such interviews, we heard incredible stories of endurance, stamina and, above all, courage. We heard not only how they had survived the humiliation of capture and the four to five years in a Prisoner of War camp, but how they endured the almost three months of walking west, in the worse winter on record, away from the Russian advance. It has been estimated that over 300,000 such P.O.W.s suffered this ordeal on many marches rights across the German homeland, which was of course Poland and Germany as we know it today.

We travelled to Basingstoke on our second morning’s filming and met veteran Douglas Hawkins. Upon arriving at the house, this frail little man, in a red pullover, arrived at the door and welcomed us in, not knowing what was required of him. He offered us all drinks and, while he kindly made them, we set up our equipment. While drinking our tea and coffee we had a general chat and explained what we wanted from him in the way of telling his extraordinary story. He was extremely excited, but nervous at the same time. We kept assuring him that although it was called an ‘interview’ we would in fact just be chatting. We wanted to know about his life in the army, from joining up, about his capture, his time in the German prison camp, and his journey home to freedom – the long walk across Germany.

As he started to tell us his amazing stories, his eyes would well up and tears would run down his face. I thought the film ordeal was getting to him and we stopped filming. “No,” he insisted, “let’s continue,” and, once more after wiping his eyes on a clean handkerchief, we continued at a specific memory, his eyes would well up and tears would appear, but he insisted that we shouldn’t stop. We continued like this during the two hours of filming, his handkerchief becoming completely soaked with tears.

He was a frail man, whose early life, which should have been one of enjoyment, had been extracted from him. Once he turned eighteen, conscription called him into the army. After his initial training he spent but a few months in action before he was captured. He was off to a prison camp with many others to live out the rest of the war. But then in the January of 1945 he, and many thousands like him, were forced to march west, away from the advancing aggressive Russian Army.

I felt sorry for Doug that his early life had been taken from him. Somehow, I felt an affinity with him, and from that interview we became friends as I discovered that we had both lived in the same hometown, Mitcham. During the interview, Doug spoke of the places and locations where I had spent my childhood. Weeks after the interview he continually rang me to tell more stories that he had forgotten.

The story of Doug’s early life will give the reader an insight into and understanding of what many soldiers suffered in war, or as Doug puts it “90% boredom and 10% sheer terror.”

The story of the Long March, or Death March, is a story that should never be forgotten. From Doug’s own personal account of those experiences you can understand the extent of the treatment he and many others received at the hands of the Germans before he was finally reunited with his family.

I was proud to have met Doug and the many other veterans who appeared in the documentary, while at the same time satisfied that the three-part series, like Doug’s own account in Lambeth to Lamsdorf: Doug Hawkins’ War, will form part of a record of war that will never be forgotten.

Stephen Saunders – TV Producer, ASA Productions
October, 2013

Preface

This is not a story of beribboned Generals standing alone delivering accounts of their strategic successes or tactical nous, nor of historians eruditely expressing their opinion or counter-opinion of decisions, triumphs, failures or missed opportunities, told with hindsight. It is the story of an anonymous teenager, an apprentice welder, now 89-years-old who was engulfed by the uncontrollable and ruthless forces of circumstance.

There was no service manual that could prepare him for what he was to meet, witness and suffer. Nor was there any such manual from which some 300,000 others could benefit who found themselves in like circumstances. The camaraderie of a few friends, an inner determination and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness, as well as the innate belief that one day all this would end either in rescue or death maintained his hope. His is a story of humanity and inhumanity.

There have been few personal accounts written about the survivors of the ‘Long March’. I have asked myself why this aspect of the last throes of the Second World War has been barely reported for 60 years. It was only in about 2005 that publications in book form appeared. Charles Waite’s story, written by Dee de Vardera, and Richard Fuzniac’s account of his father’s experiences of a similar kind are the only two published accounts that I have encountered to date. Books, films, articles and reports abound about such exploits as the Great Escape, Colditz Castle, the Dam Busters and the D-Day Landings. Important as they are, only the D-Day Landings approach the scale in time and manpower of the little known ‘Long March’.

“... this is an account of the dreary and miserable life endured by most Prisoners Of War (POWs) and of the terrible days of the march from Prussia (and Upper Silesia) to the West without food, medical support, proper clothing or shelter during one of the harshest winters in continental Europe of the 20th Century”.1

This is a story that must be told and retold, for it has as much resonance today as it did in 1945. Doug Hawkins was one of many who survived. I count myself fortunate indeed to have first met him over ten years ago, and proud today to be privileged to recount his story for the benefit of a wider audience.

Robin Green (author)

1 Hermann 22. ‘Customer Reviews’, Amazon Publishing

Dedication

This book is dedicated to Richard Sharman (London Defence Volunteer/Home Guard), John Auger (Private, Cheshire Regiment) and Frank Stapleton (Lance Corporal, Royal Engineers), the three good friends I lost too early in their life.

Contents

Part I: In the Beginning

Part II: Into Action

Part III: Incarceration

Part IV: Repatriation

Epilogue

Appendix I

Appendix II

Bibliography

Illustrations and maps

Dougie as a rookie on enlistment, aged 18

Somerleyton Road

57th Surrey (Mitcham) Battalion Home Guard

The Tower Creamery and memorial plaque

Main gate, Fulwood Barracks, Preston

An aerial view of Fulwood Barracks

Anti-aircraft firing practice at Towyn

Using the Bren Gun as an anti-aircraft weapon

The S.S. Nea Hellas in war time livery, 1942

Map of River Garigliano Beachhead

Roman ruins at Minturno

Map of Anzio Beachhead

Scenes at Anzio

In the trenches at Anzio

Route from Hill 55 to Campo 57, Fruili

Main entrance at P.G. 57, Fruili, northern Italy

The Chapel at Fruili built by ANZAC prisoners of war

Stalag VIIA, Moosberg and roll call

Stalag 344, Lamsdorf camp layout

Lamsdorf camp and Lazerette

The Rhythm Boys and amateur theatre group

Sporting activities at Lamsdorf

Transportation to an Arbeitkommando and inside the camp chapel

Bellows Cooker and German issue lighter

Cartoon ‘The well-dressed long marcher’

Route of the ‘Long March’. Jan 1945–April 1945

A view in Buchenwald

The main gate at the Benedictine Nunnery at Fulda

General view of Stalag IXA, Ziegenhain 1942 and 2004

Outisde repatriation hostel, Brussels, May 1945

Street Party, Mitcham 1945

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank and acknowledge the contributions of the following in the writing of the book:

1.Mrs J. Z. Chaddock, researcher, for following all the avenues to establish the historical evidence that underpins this narrative. Without her persistence and diligence this story could not have been written.

2.Mr Geoff Crump, archivist for the Chester Military Museum, whose assistance started me on the right track.

3.My wife, who has patiently appraised my drafts and whose suggestions have helped me to maintain my direction.

4.My daughter, Zoe, for patiently typing up the original manuscript.

5.The Cheshire Regiment Museum and its Curator, Major Pickering, for allowing me access to their Campaign Diaries and use of their archive material.

6.Ann Wicks, archivist, World War II Experience Centre, Wetherby, Yorkshire.

7.Mr Peter Hopkins, Publications Secretary, Merton Historical Society, for providing historical documentation from 1930 to 1950.

8.Stephen Saunders, ASA Productions, for his encouragement and support and the use of the transcript of his interviews with Dougie Hawkins.

9.Alan Bailey, for his checking of translations into German and from German.

Part One:

In the Beginning

March 27th 1924 was as special a day in the Hawkins’ household in Somerleyton Road, Lambeth, as it was for me. It was the day I arrived, innocent, yelling and moist into this world, the newest arrival in the household now numbering ten.

We occupied the second and third floors of a substantial bay-fronted late Victorian terrace; a white collar worker’s home of comfortable means. We lived above the Lorimers. They were a husband and wife, theatrical people, and two sons, Max and Alex. Max became the ‘Cheeky Chappie’ of 1930s musical hall known as Max Wall, a comedian and entertainer of the theatre, radio and later television. Max’s earliest appearance on stage was aged two. His older brother was a talented musician who played guitar, ukulele and banjo. Together with my elder brother, Ron, they made novelty banjo-or ukulele-shaped cigar and cigarette boxes that could be tuned and played. They were sold in the smarter pubs and clubs of the West End of London, and Max and Alex became quite well known in this enterprise. Although much older than me, Max was a mischievous and amusing friend. As I recall, it was never dull when Max was around. As Max Wall grew older and pursued his livelihood in the theatre, I lost track of him. However, new friends and acquaintances took his place. School beckoned, new people were to fill my life, new goals to be achieved and new adventures to be had.

My father was a keen cricketer, a spin bowler of some repute. He passed on this interest and his bowling skills to me, which served me well throughout my life. Early skills were learnt playing street cricket. Windows were broken regularly, yet my father always paid for their replacement.

As the large Hawkins family grew up, the home we occupied in Somerleyton Road seemed to shrink, and so my parents took the decision to move on and purchased a larger home with a garden in which my father’s growing interest in gardening could be given free rein. I was about eight when we settled into 5, Preshaw Crescent, Mitcham. This would be in about 1932.

My Junior School was next door to Brixton Police Station. This was in the days when the local Bobby knew his patch and everyone living there. He knew the honest and the scoundrel, the fair trader and the dodgy dealer. He dispensed justice with an avuncular approach, was fair, proportionate and well respected. Retribution could be swift and summary if caught ‘nicking’ an apple from a market barrow: a sharp clip across the ear would suffice for the miscreant. More serious transgressions, however, would probably be dealt with formally and take longer to resolve.

Where I learnt to play cricket, Somerleyton Road

A large street market used to stretch the length of Brixton Road. I believe it still does. It was a boisterous, colourful and exciting place to be, and attracted people from far afield. One market trader I recall who always pitched his stall near to Brixton railway station sold nothing but toilet tissue from a handcart, or sometimes a cart pulled by a horse. His wares would be piled high, neatly stacked in columns on the bed of the cart. We derived much fun from discreetly pushing the cart or enticing the horse to move forward, so causing the stacked columns to topple and cascade onto the roadway. We awaited the predictable reaction of the stall holder. We were never disappointed when he raged at us scallywags as we gleefully darted away in all directions in order to avoid the grubby calloused palm of his hand warming our ears. Temptation is a delightful thing.

Kingston’s was a fruit and vegetable retail shop near to the Police Station in Brixton Road. Of an evening, after it was closed for business we nine-, ten- and 11-year-olds had a fascination to discover how to retrieve apples from his display shelves inside the shop. We devised a plan. The locked green door to the shop had a long narrow ventilation slide that covered a similarly large rectangular-shaped opening in the door. This slide was always left in the open position to permit free flow of air across the fruit overnight.

Our strategy was to reach through this ventilator opening, armed with a long sharpened cane, which would reach to the displayed apples immediately opposite the door. Thereafter, it was easy to spear fruit and retrieve it through the opening. The team would work well together, one of us spearing and two keeping ‘cave’. These learnt skills were to serve me well much later on in very different circumstances.

We were caught from time to time. Being close to the Brixton Police Station, we were subject to the vagaries of comings and goings of tall men in pointed conical hats. On one occasion, I recall, an authoritative voice demanded, “And what are you three up to?”

“Nothing, Sir,” came the meek reply.

“Off home you lot, before I take you there myself.”

We were gone in an instant. This was a close call, until next time!

Close to our home in Somerleyton Road lived two elderly ladies. They kept themselves to themselves, were respected and had probably seen hard times during the First World War. Indeed, our neighbour Mrs Lorimer’s nanny, known as Aunty Betty to us, was killed on 16th September 1916 by a bomb dropped from Zeppelin L31, one of the later bombing raids on London.

When boredom overtook our common sense we would find an opportunity to discreetly tie a string to our victims’ front door knocker, and, whilst hiding behind the low front wall of the house, we would pull the string to rattle the knocker. When the knock was answered we would skedaddle, giggling with the vicarious thrill of having annoyed and disturbed our elderly victims. This is the sort of childish activity the author would sometimes indulge in on ‘Mischief Night’, that is, 4th November, the evening before ‘Bonfire Night’. The Devil finds work for idle hands!

I have a vivid memory of ‘Daddy Weston’, a teacher whose philosophy told him that children should be seen and not heard, and woe betide any pupil who tested this belief. Daddy Weston was well known for administering instant justice. There was a group of what would loosely be described in the 1930s as ‘gypsies’ who lived in an area of Mitcham called ‘Rocky’. One of the children from Rocky caught Daddy Weston’s eye once too often. Daddy’s response was a sharp physical chastisement. This proved to be a mistake, for the lad’s father arrived at school the next day and dealt with Daddy Weston by means of a well-directed punch to the face. We cheered loudly at this spectacle. It was better than Roy Rogers and Gene Autry at a Saturday matinee. Such memories live a long time.

Terry Bull had a coal yard in Gladstone Road. As the coal men left to deliver and returned to reload their horse-drawn cart they would call out, “Coal man, Coal.”

Mr Bull had a pet Mynah bird in his office, and on hearing the coal men’s call it would reply with unrepeatable expletives. I wonder, who taught the bird?

I left school at 14 years to become apprenticed to a company that fabricated and engineered various items in metal. This firm was Corfields and Buckle, and it manufactured a variety of components for aircraft. My training was as an acetylene welder. It was not something that particularly took my fancy, but it would lead to a skill for which there would always be a demand with the prospect of war on the horizon. This was 1938.

There was a tradition in the family of service to the country in the Army. I had four elder brothers. My father and three of my brothers had all been together in the Territorial Army during the inter-war years. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, after the false hope of ‘Peace in Our Time’, all territorials were first in line for service. My eldest brother joined the Royal Artillery. Another became an engineer in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, whilst one of my sisters worked in a munitions factory.

I had joined the Home Guard whilst still too young to contribute to the war effort in any other capacity. Subsequently, I was to meet the German equivalent of the Home Guard, but under very different circumstances. More of that later. I became a ‘runner’; that is, a messenger who would be tasked to contact other senior Home Guard personnel in the event of an incident. This usually meant taking to my bicycle and haring around the streets in the blackout, knocking on doors to pass on my message. It is fortunate that cars were a rarity in 1940. My message was usually directed towards mustering all personnel to a rendezvous where a briefing would be carried out. The rendezvous was usually the golf club house on Mitcham Common. It had a bar and a snooker table, comfortable chairs and heating. It was well chosen.

This voluntary work was exciting for a teenager. I felt involved whilst having an armband (LDV) with a badge and a tin hat that set me apart. It was, however, no training for what was to come.

57th Surrey (Mitcham) Battalion Home Guard. I am on the back row, extreme right. Courtesy Merton Historical Society

At this time, home was a happy place. There was always coming and going, incessant chatter, plans being discussed, opinions aired, and the warm cocooning of family life.

I recall I used to visit a cricket bat maker who had premises in High Street, Sutton. He was Maurice Odd, of Odd and Son. I was about ten or 12 at the time, and fascinated by the machinery, lathes and the like, and by the various shaping tools that were used. “How do you get the springs in the handle?” This was one of the mysteries explained to me. Each bat would be tailor-made to the exact specification of the client. Maurice was a skilled craftsman.

The toe of the bat always had a small conical-shaped depression on it. I thought this was where you put the oil into the bat. My Dad had always said that you had to keep the bat well oiled! With a kindly and knowing smile Mr Odd explained that this was the hole made by the lathe to grip it before being turned. The fascination of this workshop never left me. The smell of willow sap and wood dust that pervaded everywhere within the premises has stayed with me to this day.

Western Road Secondary School had been an enjoyable experience and a happy place to be. Albeit no academic, I held my own in the bustle of school life and even made my mark as more than a fair cricketer, thanks to my dad’s coaching. I still possess two cricket match balls, each with engraved escutcheon; the reward for achieving a hat-trick of wickets on separate occasions, one of which was at the Harrogate County Ground, Yorkshire, with the test and Yorkshire batsman, Maurice Leyland, in attendance as team Captain.

My mother was a housewife and looked after us all very well. She must have been the busiest of us all in such a household. My father was a draughtsman in the construction industry.2 This took him far afield, once to the Forth Bridge on an inspection, and on another occasion to Shoreham-on-Sea to inspect the new Top Secret ‘Mulberry Docks’ before their use on D-Day, June 1944.

So with my military connections, and already being a member of a quasi-military organisation, or perhaps, being christened after Lawrence of Arabia, I was destined to be drawn to the Services.