Less We Forget Poppy


The Life and Times of Hubert Brooks M.C. C.D.
A Canadian Hero

Less We Forget Poppy


Chapter 2: CAPTURE / PRISONER OF WAR / ESCAPE ATTEMPTS

Section 2.6 : Recaptured at CRACOW 16 June '42

Next day, 16th June, we reached the centre of Krakow and wandered around the city in the rain trying to make contact with the underground. We were still unsuccessful at dusk and looked so bedraggled that we decided to head back to the outskirts of the city, pick an isolated house and try our luck.

I knew we were in bad company the moment the door opened in answer to our knock. Three men stood in the doorway and two of them wore swastikas on their lapels. We had blundered into the home of the local German brickyard controller. In a vain attempt to extricate ourselves from this predicament, I turned on my best Montreal patois and told the Germans we were two French peasants working at forced labor on a nearby farm and wanted in out of the rain.

The desperate gambit worked well enough to keep the local Nazis up all night checking on French farm help in the area.

PHOTO: Gestapo HQ in Krakow

We were escorted to a civilian prison in KRAKOW. Here, we spent the night in a cell already occupied by several Poles arrested on charges of drunkenness.

The following morning, I was further interrogated and searched by a German officer and two German NCO's. During the search, the Germans discovered my POW identification discs. Perturbed by the false information that I had given them the previous night, I was kicked, struck and slapped around by the Germans.

In the afternoon I was escorted to the Gestapo Headquarters in Krakow.We spent the 24 hours of June 19th, 1942, at Gestapo headquarters in Krakow listening to our bellies rumble with hunger and the incessant questions of our interrogators:
"Who were you trying to contact in the underground?"
"What names have you?"
"Who helped you so far?"

Again and again we replied that we had escaped from Bobrek simply to avoid the hard work of digging coal in the mines.

In the end they shrugged and sent us to a Russian POW camp which was just being started on the western outskirts of Krakow that contained about 200 Russians. At this camp we received our first meal after being in custody for nearly twenty-four hours.

While I was in the Russian camp, I was denied medical attention for severe blisters which had formed on my feet during my escape.

We were there for three to four days, and despite the feet blister issue, I made several attempts to get out via the lavatory windows without success.

Around 25th June 1942, we were then sent back to the familiar compounds of Stalag VIII B at Lamsdorf. I was re–interrogated and sentenced by camp officials to fourteen days solitary confinement for attempting to escape. During the fourteen days in solitary confinement, I was given bread and water for ten days. The other four days, I received camp rations which consisted of two very small potatoes, two thin slices of black bread and a ladle of tasteless soup. You were not allowed to either read or smoke. My masquerade as Private Fred Cole of the New Zealand Army went unchallenged. I decided that the Germans must have a very poor ear for Commonwealth accents.
I was only too happy that they did, since it meant I would have a second chance to escape.

After being released from solitary confinement I was returned to the working party compound, but I had blistered my feet badly while at "liberty". Thus I was required to enter Lamsdorf's hospital for an operation. This operation consisted in the removal of an infested gland from my left groin. Camp doctors attributed the infection to the lack of medical care rendered to my blistered feet while I was detained at the Russian POW camp. (Apparently the infection spread from the infected foot via the lymphatic system, up to the nearest lymph node region, which was in the groin. The infection then "set up" in the groin lymph or "gland". One of the functions of the lymph nodes is to stop the spread of infection, so there was no doubt a "battle" was going on in my lymph node between the infection and my immune response system. The lymph node was very swollen when it was infected, with an abscess. The operation removed the infected gland.)

I was in the camp hospital for a month and a half. There, I was able to discuss some of the problems of escaping with a man who'd already escaped once; it was Group Captain (then Wing Commander) Douglas Bader – the legless RAF ace. He had been out on a working party with 6 other airmen all posing as privates and had made an unsuccessful attempt to escape.

I also met two POW's who were at Beuthen at the time of my escape. Their first remark was:
"Thank God that you were not caught leaving the billet or even recaptured in the immediate vicinity of the POW compound."
When I enquired as to the reason for this comment, I was informed that my escape was discovered almost immediately and that everything broke loose around the camp. While the POW's were lined up outside their billets, the German NCO in charge of the camp went raging mad – cursing Private Cross and myself and fired a whole magazine of ammunition from his Lugger into the ground.


image of barbed wire


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