21st January 1944 - 23rd April 1945 Sgt. Harold Herbert Bennett, PoW days, Kopernikus, Heydekrug
Following his crews loss on Halifax III LW291 EY-M Sgt. Harold Bennett was captured and served various periods in Stalag Kopernikus and Stalag Luft Heydekrug.
His Granddaughter (Claire Shepherd) kindly submitted to us extracts from his diary covering his last PoW days, together with various drawings made during his captivity.
Here then is just part of his story:
Thursday 5th April 1945:
Orders to evacuate Fallingbostel Camp – panic reigned. Told to leave at 10 o’clock later 1 o’clock. Eventually at 5.30 we passed into the voyager, the last party to leave that day. Strength of party 100. Received rations for 7 days then discovered that we were to be the only party to travel by rail with some of the guards. 2 were from the sick quarters, very old and weak. Two fellows escaped at the station also one the next day, they were not missed. Bags of flap from the Germans.
Friday 6th April 1945:
Rations of camp attached to train – joy from the 97. The journey begins at a very slow rate numerous stops owing to air raids. Officer in charge is bewildered when told that we were not from sick quarters.
Saturday 7th April 1945:
Same travel difficulties, stopped several times amongst the trees for cover from aircraft (German). Leave the train and go under cover if aircraft in area. At 7 o’clock stopped in station Isoltaw. Was shunted just outside when station attacked by ‘Yanky’ aircraft. Locked in truck whilst hell let loose. Guards panic. Loaded ammo train in station is hit. Clouds of black smoke. Moved away that night towards Hamburg.
Sunday 8th April 1945:
Weather still 100%. Saw train of 50 to 60 wagons, tarpaulin covered loaded with people from internment camp evacuated from Leipzig area dressed in striped jacket and trousers. Railways strewn with wrecked coaches and trucks. Traded 20 cigs for loaf.
Monday 9th April 1945:
Camped on siding, made brews etc. Very slow progress.
Tuesday 10th April 1945:
Passed through stations and goods yards completely wrecked. Camping on sidings. Moving at night. Arrived at destination only to find that there was not a camp in the area. Camped on siding at Schnega until moved to hide in a barn 1 kilometre away. Had two eggs for carrying blanket for goon, too weak! Visited village. No guards. Then guards but no rifles.
Saturday 14th April 1945:
Visited farm, had milk and eggs. 2nd farm cake, coffee, egg. Woman lost two sons in Romania – met up with 3 scots army working in village. Milk issue.
Sunday 15th April 1945:
Egg issued to each man, also rhubarb. Walked to next village, asked to work on farm for our food. Given meal and taken on as farm help. Returned to camp. Collected kit and escaped after being stopped and returned.
Monday 16th April 1945:
First day at work watering cows and horses. Put fresh straw in for them. Went into fields. Lunch at one o’clock. Chicken, fresh peas, carrots, onions and thick gravy. Worked with all family planting potatoes. Two german soldiers staying at farm also helping. Number of soldiers in village just waiting for the yanks to arrive. Fed up with the war. One german fighter flew over our heads whilst planting potatoes.
Tuesday 17th April 1945:
Bad day for me, feeling ill, too much good food has laid me out. Spent day laying in straw loft. Finished by watering horses etc. Managed to eat a small amount. Aircraft machine gunning nearby. Guns and aircraft in action all day.
Wednesday 18th April 1945:
Today the war draws nearer, heavy guns and machine guns are certainly close. German soldiers came out of wood today. Village invaded by germans retreating. Seemed fed up with war, friendly to us. Yanks reported 5 kilometres. Villagers scared to have troops in village, bedding and valuables ready for shelters. Heavy artillery close by shaking buildings. German soldiers leave farm.
Thursday 19th April 1945:
Two young Germans wandered in this morning without any kit, not even a rifle. Our tactical air force went to town several kilometres away.
Friday 20th April 1945:
Several enemy aircraft. Very watchful from my hide-out. The war seems to have ended. Not a sound disturbs the countryside until late morning when the clear blue sky is simply covered by vapour trails, hundreds of ‘kites’ passed over. Some yanks – lovely sight. The tactical RAF boys were in action again. At least 4 enemy shot down – all fighters.
Saturday 21st April 1945:
Saturday and still no yanks. The yanks had arrived – gave thumbs up. They were surprised when they saw us. Raining. Big guns shaking farm. Work seems to stop when it rains. German troops in village. Exciting moments this evening, panzer in sight. Yanks too far to contact.
Sunday 22nd April 1945:
Informed six tanks and supply wagons passed along road before we were awake. Had a look for the boys but no sign of them – then great sight. The yanks are here. Yippee! At 1.30pm a recon unit entered. Were we pleased? YES they’re here. I walked to Bergen and found the yanks in possession. Tanks, tanks and more tanks. Overwhelmed with hospitality, talked ourselves dry. Heard the radio for first time in Germany. Moving tomorrow, talked until midnight. Sleep.
Monday 23rd April 1945:
Sleepless night, too much excitement. Breakfast – cereal, 2 eggs, 10 flapjacks, milk. Of to England at 9.30am. 80 mile ride in jeep to Celle. Saw several German tanks blown to pieces. Arrived at POW receiving centre 1200 hrs. Delouse, bathed, fed. On airfield awaiting air transport at 2.30pm. no more today. Sleeping at drome for the night. Colonel Macintosh of the (Blues and Greys) 29th Division. The Yanks are tops.
Tuesday 24th April 1945:
Stood around drome until 12.15. Took off on our way to Brussels. Over the Rhine 1.25pm. Landed 1.55, met by NAAFI wagon etc. Off to receiving centre, new clothes, boots etc then off to hotel then restuarant. Money 800 franks – 10/ note. Visited NCOs club, wizard evening. People in services free transport on street cars. Another sleepless night.
Wednesday 25th April 1945:
Along to breakfast. Souvenir hunting, awaiting truck to call for us. Very impatient. Spent all franks today. At last took off 8.35. Passed over Leon, French coast. Terrible bomb damage near Calais. Sighted England failing light. Landed 10 o’clock met by WAAFs and nurses, doctors etc. Tea, cakes, biscuits. Left at 12.15, entered train at 1.30 on our way to Cosford England.
Thursday 26th April 1945:
Arrived Cosford 5am. Realising that we are in England. Stacks of forms to fill in then a shower. Wizo! Breakfast – 2 eggs, peas, potatoes after cereal. Bread and butter, marmalade. And so to sleep 8.15am. Awakened 1.30pm, began our form filling campaign once more.