Down Memory Lane, December 11 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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Gunner Neil MacLean’s previously unpublished POW diary

The Courier continues to share more from the previously unpublished prisoner of war diary written by Campbeltown soldier Gunner Neil MacLean who was captured following the 51st Highland Division’s surrender at St Valéry-en-Caux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 from June 1941:

June  Had a long walk to Willinberg XXB. Raining heavy. The usual standing about for hours then into billets 120 men in each small room. A rotten camp.

The lice have started again. Dinners here not very good but luckily we have plenty RC tins with us. 3,000 British here, 700 French, some Poles, Belgium, etc. Hope we are not long in this dump.

18th, got registered at 5pm and then received a complete battledress and overcoat (badly needed).

Moved out of Willinberg XXB on the 19th, searched and then about one and a half hours walk to the station. Passed some lovely houses and through a large town, Aidenberg? Very nice.

Landed at station. 49 men in cattle truck, wanted to put us in to 20 men but complained so they put us in with the passengers. With our new rig out on it just seemed we were going home on leave. Lovely scenery, short run.

Arrived at our place about midnight and 50 men here before us. Our billet is in with a lot of German soldiers and we get what they have. Nice wooden beds, double deck, pillow, two blankets etc.

Dinner very good and bread ration, one loaf between three, sausage and honey etc for tea. Very happy here for my first day. Four Campbeltown boys together. Settled down here now. All kinds of work from farming to labouring. Find the bread ration not plenty when working hard all day. Can’t buy bread, tobacco or anything like that. Word of us going back to our head camp.

July – 1st, another 20 men arrived today. Makes the company up to 90 now. July 6th, another 10 men arrived. Hear we are moving out on Tuesday, 20 of us.

Moved out on the 8th. We were ordered to split into two, they wanted to separate us but managed to get together. Four Campbeltown boys. Driven out in a horse wagon about 10 km and arrived at Louisenberg on a farm.

Billeted in to two rooms on the farm. Received a good dinner. Meals for first week – breakfast 6am, one slice of bread; 10am, one slice of bread and jam; dinner, soup and buttermilk; 4pm one and a half slices of bread; tea, 8pm, potatoes and buttermilk.

Working hours – up at 5.30am, start 7am. One and a half hours for dinner and work till 8pm. Off all day on a Sunday. A very long working week at hay and hoeing. Having finished, we started cutting the harvest. Very poor, out three fields with reaper and fourth with binder.

The guard we had was always chasing us up. 28Th – I could not stand him any longer and we had words, furious, he took his rifle down and was going to give it to me in the rear end twice. The next day we had a change of guard, better than the first one.

The end of July working hard. The food just so-so, always potatoes, waiting for Red Cross Parcel (RCP) to come. The farmer stands over us most of the day.

August – Half another month in, working away at the harvest and taking in thrashings. On the 5th we received a month’s supply of RCPs and did enjoy them. A big change from always potatoes.

Our guard had to go away as his wife was ill. A new one came in his place and seems very nice. Receiving our mail once a week now. It seems to be better that way.

The end of August and nearly all the harvest in. The food has improved this month, maybe we noticed it with us having our RCP.

Received our first pay here. RCP finished, waiting for next month’s issue to come. Not much mail lately, hope next month is better. Our [illegible] storks here left the farm this month. Was off work one and a half day (the first since a prisoner) with a tummy ache.

Continued in next week’s Courier.