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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



We had been in our new camp for just a short time, probably no more than a few days, when we heard the sound of rifle fire. There was no sign of our guards. The next thing we heard was a huge commotion at the main gates, which were in the next compound to ours. General George 'Blood and Guts' Patton had arrived! He didn't ask for the keys to the gates, he just rolled over them in his big tank and ground them into the dust.

All the American POW's were immediately grounded and told that there were still some pockets of armed Germans around who wouldn't hesitate to shoot them so in the meantime, for their own safety, they were to stay put.

Looking around our compound we found someone had already cut a hole in the perimeter fence so passing through it we walked to the village, which was only a short distance from the camp. Seeing some foreign prisoners with loaves of bread under their arms we asked them where they had got them from?

"Just down the street at the bakery," they said.

We made our way towards the bakery and my friend and I grabbed a loaf each, but by this time the whole bakery was practically devoid of bread.

As we continued down into the village we heard a loud crackling noise and looking back we saw the bakery going up in flames. The Russian POWs had arrived and discovering there was no bread they had set fire to it. I could understand their disappointment and anger. These men were dying of malnutrition and consequently were desperate for food.

Going down a side street we came upon a house with the windows open. Inside, people were standing or sitting around drinking Schnapps. One woman, who was close to the window, came nearer and pointed to our battle blouses. "You have pistols?" she asked us, with fear written all over her face.

We assured her we were carrying nothing more than a loaf of bread each. I felt really sorry for them. They were obviously terrified of what was going to happen. We hurried back to the Lager for there was nothing we could do for them.

One of Patton's men was going from barrack room to barrack room shouting out his brother's name and rank and asking if anyone had seen or knew of him. Eventually he found him, and I thought it was a wonderful reunion - something to write to the folk's back home about.

We didn't stay in this camp very long as both the British and the Americans wanted the POWs home as soon as possible, which we thought was a very good idea! However, before setting off we were subjected once more to a delouse - a puffer down your neck, back, and down your front. Having finished with that we walked out of camp and boarded an American truck, which transported us to an airfield. There, a number of Dakota Transport planes were running shuttle services.

On entering the airfield our gunner, who was mounted up front with a heavy machine gun, opened fire on a light airplane, which was flying very low up the field with a man sat outside on the undercarriage. It turned out to be a German general and his wife along with two members of his staff who were coming in to surrender.

Waiting our turn for a Dakota we witnessed one empty plane come in to land. It taxied the full length of the field then upended with its nose stuck in the ground and its tail high in the air. Luckily no one was hurt and it was just left it there where it was. We boarded another plane and away we went courtesy of the American 8th Army Air Force. What a wonderful feeling that was!

About thirty minutes into the flight, the connecting door separating the planes hold and the cockpit sprung open and one of the crew came in and sat with us for a chinwag leaving the other two members of the crew in the cockpit. We knew these planes carried a crew of three. The door opened again and another crewmember joined us just as the planes engines began making a strange noise, which was different to the usual steady drone we were used to.

"Don't worry, it's only the buffeting from the air pockets as we go over the mountains", explained the first crewmember.

Finally the third crewmember came in and sat with us. "It's quite alright," he assured us, having seen the obvious concern on our faces, "Charlie's flying the plane."

"Who the hell's Charlie?" we asked.

"The best pilot on board" he replied, "our automatic pilot."

"Well we hope he doesn't fancy a chat too!" someone said.

We enjoyed our flight, which was peaceful and uneventful and thanked our American friends for their hospitality as we arrived in Rhiems in north-eastern France. Dominating the city skyline was the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral.

We queued up for food while awaiting our next transport, which turned out to be a four-engine Lancaster bomber with a crew of Canadian airmen. I don't recall how many POWs were taken onboard but although we covered the full length of the runway the plane wouldn't take off so we had to board another plane.

Jack Aaron

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