Sent: Friday, November 1, 2013 2:05 AM
Subject: G Ford Stalag 8b
From: Keith Ford
First of all, many thanks for maintaining the Lamsdorf site. It is great to be able to see so much about Stalag 8b.
My father was Sgt George F Ford and was in the Territorial Army, I believe in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. He is mentioned in the Clarion 6/13. He played the piano in the Populaires Septet and accompanied many theatre shows. He was friends with the British actor, Denholm Elliott who organised and produced many of them. I cannot, however, see any mention of Denholm Elliott in the Clarion. I know that they kept in touch briefly after the war as my father met him at the Newcastle Theatre Royal when Elliott was acting in a play there, and my father was the lead viola player in the orchestra. We lived in Newcastle and my father worked all of his life at the Royal Insurance Company.
The text that follows is a letter written by me to a friend in USA and relates to my main reason for looking up the Lamsdorf web site.
I never really put my Dad's comments into print, so your comment about his being a POW for five years jogged my memory. Dad and I talked a lot in his later years and I took him to France on one occasion and he showed me the place he was captured. So after your comment I thought I would write up some of his conversations with me. He had quite a dry sense of humour so I am trying to show that as well.
First Story - His war did not last very long. He was part of the BEF, the British Expeditionary Force that went to defend France after Czechoslovakia and Poland were taken. Most of these guys were Territorial Army types, the British equivalent of your National Guard, weekend soldiers working full time at a civilian job and Dad was a clerk in an insurance company. The BEF was sent to France in September 1939 and deployed mainly along the Belgian/French border during the so called 'Phoney War'. Hostilities did not actually commence until France was invaded on 10 May 1940. After the commencement of battle the BEF were driven back through France forcing their eventual evacuation from several ports and beaches along the French northern coastline, the best known, of course, being Dunkirk.
Dad was a sergeant in the Durham Light Infantry, the local regiment of Newcastle, the town where we lived, and was in charge of a Bren Gun Carrier, a Ford V8 side-valve engined tracked vehicle that held 4 men plus a driver and all their equipment. They were billeted in the cellar of a farmhouse next to a canal near a small village called Bulscamp, which is close to the French/Belgian border. A bridge over the canal was adjacent to the farmhouse and their instructions were to tell any members of the Wehrmacht that they were not allowed to cross the bridge, and if they ignored this instruction they were to shoot them. They only had four rifles and a Bren gun, which was a .303 calibre light machine gun, so they did wonder occasionally what would happen if the Wehrmacht arrived with Panzers, flamethrowers, field guns and an air cover of Stukas! However, it was the first time any of them had been 'abroad' so it was quite exciting. The local Flemish folk had been quite friendly and very keen to swap French wine for English cigarettes, so things were quite jolly until a chap called Von Bock turned up. Everything went sort of downhill after that.
The first inkling they had that something might not be quite right was when they discovered that the family who owned the farm and who had been most hospitable up till then, disappeared. They were nowhere to be seen and things became eerily quiet. This was very inconvenient as they were relying on the farm for the supply of milk for brewing their tea.
The next thing that caught their attention was a stream of vehicles on a distant road heading back towards the coast. They went to check on what was happening and stopped a military police jeep, the occupants of which said that a general retreat had been called and that everyone was to proceed to the beaches around Dunkirk.
This conversation took place at dusk and Dad and his men decided to pack their gear, get some sleep and start at dawn when they would be able to actually see where they were going, as the lights on Bren gun carriers never worked, even when they were new!
He thought it was probably around 28th May at 2am when a German officer who spoke perfect English stepped into the cellar. He said "For you the war is over, we will now take you all on a nice long holiday in Germany, and if you do not agree to this I shall have to pull the pins on these two hand grenades which I am holding here!" Dad could only respond by saying "Oh well, if you are going to be like that about it!" and they surrendered.
He always said that this officer was the only German he ever met who had a sense of humour.
They were herded on to trains and after several days arrived at Stalag 8b in Lamsdorf, Silesia (Now called Lambinowice). He had many stories of life in this particular camp, most of which mirror tales of other camps which have been well documented.
I only learned the truth of the second tale at Dad's funeral from one of his friends who had also been in the camp.
Second Story - The POW's were subject to a considerable amount of propaganda by the prison guards and administration. On many occasions they were addressed by the camp commandant or other officers and informed that the English cities were being destroyed by the Luftwaffe. One of these was our home town of Newcastle on Tyne, which was described as being totally destroyed, with all the civilian population dead. (This was, of course, totally false as the only capable aircraft, the Heinkel 111 did not have the range to attack northern England). The commandant then said 'Welcome to the New Europe, which, when the war is over we will all build together!" I can only imagine how men felt when they heard this, as the Durham Light Infantry was based near Newcastle and many of the prisoners lived there.
Dad and several other prisoners worked at a paper mill in a village called Krappitz, now called Krapkowice. It was the only time they ever saw women, as women and girls called to collect wrapping paper for local farmers to wrap their produce. As local Polish men were few and far between, the girls had little opportunity for romance, and my Dad and his buddies were only too eager to oblige on the few opportunities that became available.
So the obvious happened, and it was only at my Dad's funeral that I learned that from one of his co prisoners that I had a half-brother in Poland!
I often wondered why Dad always refused my offer of taking him on a holiday there! France and Belgium were ok, but Poland, no way!
So this explains my personal interest in Lamsdorf and I intend to visit there next summer on a search for info on my half-brother.
Pic attached believed to have been taken in 1939