Down Memory Lane, December 4 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.
Gunner Neil MacLean

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Previously unpublished war diary

The Courier continues to share more from 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, during and after the war, were supplied by Neil’s son Calum, who knew nothing of the diary until after his father’s death.

This week continues on from March 1941:

March – Weather cold and some heavy rain. On the 11th received 300 cigs from Jessie, out of smokes at the time. Gladly received.

Started work at a Jewish cemetery taking out all the stones etc. Some of us came across coffins and some bodies not long in, so we refused to work there, but were told we did not need to go down so deep. About 14 of the men refused to go back and they were sent back to Schubin to XC0 (punishment camp). Finished that job and went to enlarge a sports ground for the school. Received a snap of Margaret on the 16th, it was very good.

April – Weather very changeable. Received our Christmas parcels so on the 6th we had our Christmas dinner. A bit late, but better late than never. On 11th received a parcel of clothes from Connyglen, very acceptable.

On the 14th we had a holiday and at night we had entertainment by some of the boys entitled ‘In Town Tonight’. It started with the news and then a running commentary of a football match, then on with ‘In Town Tonight’ which lasted till bed time. It was very good. A few bottles of beer but did not have any.

On 15th received about four marks for 100 francs I handed in at Schubin received from Captain Lewis. On the 29th they stopped us buying bread and on the 30th finished the job, there were rumours we were going back to Schubin.

May – Weather very changeable and some snow. Started on the sports field we left off in 1940. Spent my birthday here on a very cold day. 19th, received two parcels from 33 Longrow, lovely pair of boots. Very pleased to receive them. Had a bad foot, it was the boots that pulled my sinuses so I put on my new pair and all OK now.

Received a new football so we had a few games on a Sunday, allowed out for an hour in the morning. By this time the sun was very warm and we had to work with our shirts off. Maybe lovely sunshine today and tomorrow would have snow. On the 28th had a very heavy fall of rain, so no work.

June – 1st and 2nd a holiday so played football both days. Worked 3rd and 4th and heard we were moving out. Moved out next morning at 8am for the train. Had a good journey, only 26 in our truck.

Saw some lovely girls on our way and Posen looks a lovely place, just passed through it. Landed at Gratz about 10.30pm and walked about one and half hours with a heavy load on our back. Went to bed straight away. About 2,000 men in here.

Lovely soup for dinner, had salt ling in soup and it was lovely. This is the best time we have had yet, plenty of smokes and eats and beds, hope it continues.

Did not get long in this camp, spent one good night at a concert and one night at the boxing, very good. Church service on the Sunday.

Before leaving here, we received two Red Cross Parcels each, but no smokes. Left Surdof (outside Gratz) on the 13th at 10am. Received one loaf each, travelled till 4am next morning in cattle trucks, 50 men in each truck very crowded.

Continued in next week’s Courier.