Prisoner of War

During the Second World War, my grandfather, Sidney Waterfall, who at the time was a birthright Quaker joined the Army in a non combatant role.  He was a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed in Britain until January 1941, when he and the rest of his corps left for the Alexandria in Egypt.

Sidney was only in Egypt for about a month, before he was sent to Crete on the 19th April 1941 to prepare for the defence of Crete from the Germans.  The battle for Crete started on the 20th May with early airborne landings (Ref: Anthony Beevor; Crete: The Battle and the Resistance; London; 1991; p.102).  When the British Army realised that Crete was a lost cause, they called for the evacuation of troop back to Egypt.

Sidney was one of 5,000 troops that was left behind on the island after the British surrendered Crete to the Germans.  Sidney then became a prisoner of war and he was initially held in a transit camp for five months before being moved to a permanent camp in Germany.  To get from Crete to Stalag VIIIB in Silesia, the POWs where shipped to Salonika and than piled into cattle trucks.

Once at the camp, Sidney was able to send and receive letters from his family and in them he wrote that although being in the camp was hard, he did not find it too hard.  The camp held boxing shows, lectures, concerts and plays and while in the camp Sidney enjoyed playing football and in 1943 he started to study criminal law.  Apart from the leisure activities, Sidney had to work in the camp hospital and he generally worked 6 days a week plus an hour or so on Sundays.

In January 1945, Germany realised that they were losing the war and ordered the evacuation of the camps, so Sidney and his fellow POWs were ordered to leave on the 21st January and they were moved to Stalag VIIIC at Sagen.  After only four day there they were then told they had an 85 km march ahead of them to Spremburg.  When they got to Spremburg, they found that they needed to keep marching to Western Germany.  The whole march was about 675 km and it took 36 days and Sidney estimated that the death rate was one prisoner a day.

Sidney survived the death march and remained a German prisoner until 2nd April, when they were liberated by the Germans.  He returned to Britain on the 8th April 1945.

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