The first POW camp liberated – Fallingbostel

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 16 April 1945.

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 16 April 1945.

In Germany the Allied forces moving west never knew what they could expect next. There were signs of increasing disorganisation amongst the Germans, yet still significant battles broke out and casualties were taken. The shock generated by the liberation of Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen would be repeated in many other camps. And still they were encountering more and more “displaced persons” as hundreds of thousands of forced labourers sought to find a way home.

But it was the liberation of their fellow countrymen from Prisoner of War camps that was to prove especially poignant. War Artist Edward Ardizzone was travelling with the 8th Hussars:

16th April Monday

Up at 5.30. Very cold but fine. Breakfast in the half light by my tank on a fried egg between pieces of bread and a mug of tea. Off almost immediately afterwards. Dawn light very beautiful, with the brew fires of the tanks seen here and there among the trees.

Travel some miles eastward, through the usual alternating forest country and open land. Halt by a clearing and am sent on ahead in a Dingo to C Squadron, which was reaching the big P.O.W. camp Stalag 257, in which over 15,000 of various nationalities were kept.

When I arrived at the first encampment troops had already been there some time. The scene was orderly and quiet, with troops of Airborne Div. acting as N.C.O.S. Many of them had only been prisoners for six to twelve months. It was amusing to see them marching off their warders. Paratroops with red armlets, dull pink berets and clean battledress, gaiters, etc – very smart — many troops French.

Our arrival at the second encampment was very different. There were P.O.W.S who had been there for years and we were the first British soldiers to arrive. They were almost crazy with delight, mobbing our Dingos, asking questions about old friends and all demanding autographs, a very moving scene. It was pleasant to see little groups in the country outside the cage, but many still lined the wire as if out of long habit.

The conditions Prisoners of War varied greatly, only Officers were excused labour under the Geneva convention, those who had been in prison for a long time had endured hard conditions and a poor diet which had debilitated many. Those who had been on the forced marches from the east were in even worse shape.

Liberated POWs at Stalag 11B near Fallingbostel, the first POW camp to be liberated, 16 April 1945.

Liberated POWs at Stalag 11B near Fallingbostel, the first POW camp to be liberated, 16 April 1945.

Sergeant George Guderley had been shot down in his B-17 Bomber in September 1944. He saw the first British Churchill tanks approaching the camp:

… they drove right through the front gate, followed by a couple of Bren- gun carriers. Everyone started hollering, and the soldiers were throwing out rations and cigarettes. I stood well back, just in case. I was damned if I was going to be killed by the very British tank that was setting me free. But then the reality of the situation sank in and it was like New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July, your birthday and the wildest bacchanal you’ve ever been to all rolled into one.

Australian Sergeant Cal Younger:

People were in tears and yelling and screaming. Cheering prisoners surrounded the armoured cars, their arms held above their heads. Half a mile away the war went on. We could hear its sounds coming over the tank’s radio. Germans were resisting in a wood nearby. A tank was sent, and then there was a message that 12 prisoners had been taken and would someone come and collect them. Another report said two cars were racing eastwards, with German senior officers in flight. They were to be headed off . . .

A group of prisoners at Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel, liberated by 7th Armoured Division. The group includes South African Peter Pienar (centre) who was blinded in North Africa in 1942.

A group of prisoners at Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel, liberated by 7th Armoured Division. The group includes South African Peter Pienar (centre) who was blinded in North Africa in 1942.

Private Les Allan had been nineteen when his unit of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had been ordered to hold the perimeter line at Dunkirk in May 1940, sacrificed to let other men escape. He had endured five years of hard labour, had had his jaw broken by a guard for no apparent reason and had then survived the 600 mile forced march from the east, although his feet were permanently damaged from walking all the way in wooden clogs.

I was lying down on the ground when it happened. So were lots of others. We were so weak we couldn’t get up and move. I was in such a dreadful state I had to have food brought to me.

I was leaning on a fence and he came up and asked me how long I had been a prisoner. I said, ‘Five years’, and he told me to go over to a point where there was a box and he said, ‘Sit there.’

So I went over and sat on the box, and four Americans came over with a machine. They put a nozzle up each trouser leg, up each arm, and turned the levers, and the next thing you couldn’t see me for a cloud of white dust. The dust was DDT, and they were defumigating me.

Then they put me in a lorry, and I was taken to a field full of marquees. Inside were long tables, and army cooks came out with dishes full to the brim with potatoes and beef. It was almost impossible to believe it. But then some doctors came in and ordered all the food to be taken away. They said too much food like that would damage us. It was heartbreaking. But they gave us a couple of spoonfuls of potato and gravy, and then we were put on planes. They had been on bombing raids over Germany, and landed on the way back to pick us up and take us to Brussels.

Once back in England Allan was given a new uniform and was back home a remarkably short time later. His neighbours came out of their homes to cheer him as he walked up the road unexpectedly, almost five years since he had been first reported missing. His mother’s hair had turned white overnight when she received that telegram. The joy of his return was overwhelming.

But soon Allan decided to forget about the past and get on with life:

People wanted to know about my experiences as a prisoner of war, but I wouldn’t tell them. Why? Because I had a feeling that they wouldn’t believe it, so consequently I just bottled it up. It might also have been because of a sense of shame about being a prisoner of war — people might ask why I hadn’t escaped. But it was also because I got the impression when I returned home that people believed we had, in effect, been in holiday camps, having a cushy time. That’s why we didn’t want to talk about it. Those who didn’t know said we’d had a good time, that we were lucky to have been prisoners when so many other fellows had been killed.

He met his wife a year later and still did not tell her about his experiences, telling her he had been discharged from the Army as medically unfit.

These POW experiences are amongst many to be found in The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Europe 1944-45.

Emaciated former-POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel, 17 April 1945.

Emaciated former-POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel, 17 April 1945.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

barry hague October 6, 2018 at 10:33 pm

My Uncle, Douglas Hague was a POW in Stalag x1b he was captured in North Africa around 1941 and transferred to Germany don’t know if he was in other camps before he arrived at Stalagx1b, but was liberated in 1945, and has the story go’s he remained in the army until 1963 but after the war he immediately went back to Germany, to help when the Berliners where starving, and he met up with a girl again that used to pass him food through the fence while he was a prisoner and married her, her name was Hessa Brook. don’t know how truthful this story is, I know he was married to a German Lady. but what a lovely story…

Richard Kowalczyk September 27, 2018 at 8:49 pm

My father Edward Kowalczyk was a POW at Stalag XI B. He was from Warsaw wounded and captured during the 1944 Uprising. Any information or anyone who may have known him please contact me.

Thank you.

Daniel, Ethan Hodges September 17, 2018 at 12:05 am

I’m looking into information about my Grand Uncle’s squadron: The 156 Squadron that was lost in a bombing raid on March 24 1944. A Harold Leslie Bird was the only survivor and was brought to this camp. If anyone has any information of this man my family would much like to find out more.

Paul Richard Borowiak September 16, 2018 at 9:46 pm

My father was a prisoner in Fallingbostel after the Russian ship they were on was captured by a U-boat. They were transferred to Italy, put on cattle cars and railroaded up to Hamburg to the camp. He shared a few stories about his time in the camp with me. After his Liberation he was a displaced person being a Polish man from Russia they didn’t want him back so he hooked up with a British tank transported group for a while. They gave him the option of either going to Canada or Australia after a while so he chose Australia because it’s a warm country. After he met my mother and they bought a house in Melbourne he got to talking to one of their neighbors and realized he was also in Fallingbostel – what are the chances?

josef jacek August 29, 2018 at 8:46 pm

I was a Polish POW there. Looking for fellow prisoners.

Phil Whittle August 9, 2018 at 10:47 am

My father is now 97 but fighting to stay with us. He was a POW for 3 years (an RAF Wellington Pilot) and was liberated on the 16th of April 1945 at Follingbostel 357. There are some on here who say they have photos, I would love to get a copy of these (e.g. John Bird). I have my fathers POW diary which has only a dozen pages filled over the three years. He did not like to talk about it much but occasionally I would get some details. I have just finished the book by Cal Younger – No flight from the Cage, which details my fathers journey almost to the letter. They must have been together in the same camps for the whole 3 years. A great insight.

From my fathers diary “16th April 1945 Monday: This is the day of liberation. At 11 o’clock this morning the 7th Armored Division arrived after cleaning the villiage of Fallingsbostel [his spelling]. I am in too much of a daze to remember clearly all today’s happenings so will leave the recording until tomorrow. Am writing by the light of an oil-[drip?] with Okey strumming a guitar and moaning cowhow ditties. Life is again worth living.”

Claudia Ruth Archer May 30, 2018 at 7:36 pm

….My Father was in the Battle of the Bulge, took a bullet in a thigh. Was captured, sent to Stalag 11 B. when liberated, was sent to Miami VA RR. His name is Clyde W. Archer US Army…teckSgt He had blond hair, blue eyes, graduated Notre Dame in 1940..he was a writer. he died of wounds in 1949.and is buried in Parkersburg, W.V. at Mt Olivet. He was 32….I was four years old…have missed him all my life,,am now 73. Sincerely, Claudia Ruth Archer…Ormond beach Fl. 386-673-2292…no cell.

Shel Benjamin March 30, 2018 at 4:18 am

From what my father told me, Robin is correct. The prisoners for the most part were separated by nationality though they occasionally saw one another outside the barracks and were able to communicate some.

The German doctor in the camp who did the initial surgery to remove the shrapnel from his leg wound (drinking liquor and biting a stick for anesthesia) went to University of Chicago Medical School!

Camp life was horrific. I have several stories.

Shel Benjamin March 30, 2018 at 4:12 am

My dad was wounded and captured at the Bulge and spent the rest of the war until liberation in Stalag 11b near Fallingbostel. Only once did I succeed in getting him to describe it to me–in 1974. I recorded it and transcribed it. I have never seen any photos before this. I wish he were still alive to see them–might have been able to identify some of the folks in the photos.

John Bird March 3, 2018 at 7:41 pm

My grandfather Harold Bird was a member of UNRAA and was based at Fallingbostel to assist with repatriation. Whilst there he took photographs throughout the camp showing typical scenes during the period of repatriation. Those photographs are all in my possession

Joe Amante January 24, 2018 at 12:17 am

My father-in-law, Dominick Giustino, was in the US Army Infantry and fought and was captured
At the Battle of the Buldge. He was a POW @ Stalag 11B Fallingbostel. We are looking for
Any other information we can obtain! These men and women were truly the “Greatest Generation!”

Robin Pittman December 30, 2017 at 9:49 pm

My uncle J.B. Devall was a POW at one of the camps at Fallingbostel Prussia in NW Germany. Does anyone remember him ? He died and never told his family anything either but all four of his kids always wanted to share that pain with him.f

John coyle November 30, 2017 at 1:33 pm

My dad, John B Coyle, was taken prisoner at Arnhem Sept 26 1944, he was with 1st Border Reg in gliders.

may bews November 21, 2017 at 8:36 pm

My dad was a prisoner of war for 5 years Captured at St Valery. His pow no. was 16234 and was in Stalag xxa2a in Germany in Oerbke near Fellingbosel
I would be grateful for any information Thank you

Robin S September 28, 2017 at 7:16 am

My father was a French POW at Stalag 11B. His name was Mejerias Slodaunikas. Does anyone know details about the French section of the camp? My understanding is that the prisoners were kept separate by nationally.

Martin F Brown May 18, 2017 at 9:41 pm

My Mothers cousin was in the RAF during WW2. He was shot down in September 1941 and subsequently taken prisoner, and was in Stalag 357. His was Sgt.Douglas Kingston, he was in 207 Squadron based at RAF Waddington.

V. Wilkie April 6, 2017 at 1:17 am

My uncle was captured on Leros, and I would like to know which pow camp he ended up in. His name was Edmund (ted) Corkill from the Isle of Man. I think he was in the Kings own regt

Philip Newman January 16, 2017 at 12:20 am

My Father was a POW at Fallingbostel IIB, he was captured on Leros and was part of the forced march from the east. He was very unique, he was a twin, his name was George Lloyd Newman, his twins name was Lloyd George Newman, there army numbers were one apart and the shared everything throughout the entire war. I still have my Fathers dog tag and his medals along with the press cuttings from the time when they were reported missing. I also have all the stories that he told me of the awful times he endured there, like when they were captured they knew that the officers did not have to work so my uncle Lloyd was a corporal and he sewed one of his stripes on my father so they could stay together. The Germans did not know which one of them was which so my Grandmother had to wait till the end of the war to find out if her sons had survived. Dreadful thing war!

sheila scott March 22, 2016 at 9:49 pm

My dad was a prisoner at Stallag 11b for last year off the war he was dropping in to Ahrnem and was shot on the way down he was looked after by a lovely dutch couple untill he was taken to the camp.As he had a bad stomache wound he was well looked after by the german drs. He was in the Army Air Corp pow number 118173 Reginald scott i would love to know more or if there are any pictures.

Stephanie hine September 17, 2015 at 12:00 am

Hi byron do you know where quentin was originally from

Byron Myers August 8, 2015 at 10:12 pm

Do any readers remember a man named Quentin Hine. He was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. I’d like to identify which camp he was held in.

Byron Myers August 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Does anyone remember a man named Quentin Hine. He was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. He told me the camp was reached by Allied forces on April 1, 1945. I’d like to know which camp he was held in, and if any vets remember him.

Glen Towler April 18, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I was based at Fallingbostel during the late 80’s with 2 RTR for a about year about the time the Berlin wall came down and I never knew it was a POW camp

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