World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         Ernest Stokes 

My War in the `Duke of Wellingtons'

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Ernest Stokes, Captain Clark
Location of story: POW Camp at Thorne in Poland
Unit name: Duke of Wellingtons
Background to story: Army


My War in the `Duke of Wellingtons'

Ernest Stokes

I worked at Arthur Lees & Sons until I joined the army at twenty years old, I walked from Blackburn Village to Sheffield to enlist. A few days later I was sent to have a medical examination. A few days later and I was on my way to Halifax Barracks, where I joined the `Duke of Wellingtons', a foot infantry. After six moths training here I was sent to Aldershot Barracks for a further five months of training, at this time war was a possibility. We were told to have our kit ready to go to France.

1939 and the war began ...

One hundred and twenty of us went to load all the kit aboard wagons at the station ready to move out.

Two days later we got our orders and the lot of us travelled in railway cattle trucks to France. I spent my twenty first birthday in a cattle truck, it was dreadful. We arrived in a place called Le-Havre and were given our rations of bully beef and tack biscuits.

Our regiment's order was for the Maginol Line, in front of the big guns, when these guns went off it made the ground we stood on tremble. I was on the front line six weeks.

I was then told to go with twelve other men and collect some tanks and some gun carriers for the front line. Captain Clark went with us, we were all drivers and gunners in Aldershot working in the transport section. We went to a town called Tonay in France. When we arrived it was on fire, bombed by the Germans. The tanks and guns were alright, we had two days to get ready to take them back to the Maginol Line and ready for action.

One morning when out on guard, me and my four mates were sat in a carrier on alert for German attack, we had to give the signal the Germans were on their way.

My mate was a Bren gunner No 1, man in the carrier who fires the gun. The No 2 loads the gun and No 3 stands by to take over in case anyone is injured or killed and lastly there's the driver - me.

The next day we were ordered to blow up the carriers and tanks as they were no longer any use to us, we had to move on to Albert Canal in Belgium.
We were told to hold our positions until the last man, it was four hours before the Germans attacked us, we were surrounded.

I was shot in the leg, a trench mortar dropped at the side of me. It was like thunder when it exploded, the blast caused all my right side to go black and numb. When I came round a German was standing over me with a revolver pointing at me. I told him to hold his fire, he put his gun away and got some dressings for my leg. He and two other soldiers took me to a place like a small church. I was held there along with two other soldiers. Then those of us that could walk were then made to walk. I was not bad although I was black down my side and had a leg wound.

We walked for miles before arriving at a place called Leep, a small village in Belgium. There we were given black coffee and a piece of black bread by the Germans.

After half an hours rest, we were on the road again, walking until night came, we then slept along the roadside. Eventually we arrived in Holland only to be put on barges and taken to Poland to a prisoner of war camp.

The camp was at a place called Thorne in Poland. The day after we arrived I was sent with six other men from my camp to work down the salt mines, two German officers went down the mine with us to make sure we worked hard all the time. We walked the eight miles to the mine and worked a twelve-hour day every day, with twenty minutes break and not much to eat. We then walked eight miles back to camp and were given black coffee, bread and soup that resembled dish water.

I remember the guards getting us up at 4am, making us strip and go stand outside in the January snow while our wooden huts were searched. Our camp was made of wood and barbed wire.

I was a prisoner of war for five and a half years. Around 1945 the British and Russian troops surrounded the Germans in Poland and Germany. The American troops came and released us.

We were asked to point out anyone who had been cruel to us in the camp. The Russian soldiers came and shot a lot of the Germans. We were all taken away in lorries to be flown home to London, when we arrived we were taken to a place where we could have a bath and then given new uniforms.

I took the bus from London back to Yorkshire to stay with my brother at his home near Rotherham. One day a young woman came to my brother's house whilst I happened to be there. Her name was Violet Johnson. I told my sister in law, also called Violet, that I would like to take her to the pictures. The next time I saw her I asked her out. From my brothers I had to go to Doncaster, I was there for a few weeks until I was demobed at York. I then returned to my brother's home and went out with Violet for a few weeks before getting married in 1946.

In 1950, I went to Korea with the N U F R for ten months on the front lines. I was a Bren gun carrier driver.

I had enlisted in 1938, for seven years with . the colours and five years with the reserves. I did thirteen and a half years altogether. My wife Violet and myself had eleven children, nine of which are alive today.

We used to sing this song to the Germans.
They did not like it:
We're going to hang out our washing
On the Sigfield Line
If the Sigfleld Line's still there,
Whether the weather may be wet or fine
We will stroll along without a care,

And the Germans like I said did not like it.