Down Memory Lane, November 13 2020

There is nothing to stop us remembering, in our own time and in our own way, the sacrifices of soldiers like Gunner Neil MacLean, photographed here, who spent five years as a prisoner of war following the 51st Highland Division's surrender at St Valéry-en-Caux during the Second World War.

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A previously unpublished war diary

Gunner Neil MacLean’s son shares his father’s prisoner camp memories

Last week, the Courier began serialising the war diary written by Campbeltown soldier Gunner Neil MacLean after he became a prisoner of war following the 51st Highland Division’s surrender at St Valéry-en-Caux during the Second World War.

The diary, and several photographs of Neil, taken both during and after the war, were supplied to the Courier by Neil’s son Calum, who knew nothing of the diary’s existence until after his father’s death.

Last week’s coverage recounted events from June 12 to June 23 1940.

June 28 – Had a short train journey through Holland in an open truck. Alex and I were unfortunate to land in the middle of one. Everybody there was running to the train with eats, soap, pudding, bread etc. I managed to get a packet of cigs so had a smoke. Some of the chaps had a sack full but knew how to hang on to it.

Went off the train and lined up for some dinner. The French were first and after waiting for hours, the dinner was finished but we received some old boiled potatoes and salt so we ate them, skins and all, till we were contented just like pigs.

Then we had to line up and go on board a barge. We received a loaf of bread each and put down below, packed in like herrings. Three days on it. During the day it was lovely sailing down the [illegible] in the sunshine.

The Red Cross came out in a small boat; we received a small portion of cheese and butter. Came off the barge and we received some German sausage newly made and it did taste good.

Then a short journey by train (cattle wagon) and landed at a large camp called Bochile. Searched and put into a large tents.

Here I had my first decent sleep but disturbed during my sleep with our planes overhead. We were well fed, nice soup for dinner, one loaf between five for tea with cheese and jam but no breakfast.

I also discovered here I had some nice companions on me (lice). Met some of the Campbeltown boys, D MacLean and A McPherson, who came in after us.

Left there after six days with good rations and were put into cattle trucks, 50 men in each and no room to move. We had 38 hours in it with only one stop for 10 minutes.

Some of the men were caught short and had to do the next best thing and do it in the truck and throw it out the small window. Between the asses of roses and the heat we were poor wrecks when we came out of the train.

Landed at Schoken on July 9 and received three hard biscuits and put into a field to sleep for the night.

In the morning we were taken inside the camp, we were searched, registered, then given a piece of soap but we were out of luck as the towels were finished by the time it came to our turn. I had a napkin so that had to do as a towel between six of us.

Met more Campbeltown boys here and heard that more were killed/taken prisoner before us. We were put into rooms which was very good and had a good bed. The next day we received a straw bed.

By this time, the lice were pretty bad and had to be de-liced on July 11. Washed my socks, put them out, and within minutes they had disappeared.

The lice were back again within a couple of days but managed to keep them down, some of the boys did not bother.

Our meals were no breakfast, soup for dinner, 1/5 of a loaf, jam or lard, just sufficient to keep us alive. We had to take our shirts off for one hour every day and go out to a sports field every morning, but we were too weak to do anything. As the days went on I grew stronger.

Continued in next week’s Courier.