VE DAY - A Food-Saving Decision

For the Sake of Comparison

V.L. Doug Hawkes


Rank: Sergeant
Squadron: 419 A/C JD 420 Halifax
Date: 21/1/44
Target: Magdeburg
Stalag 4B
POW# 270041

Inmate of Stalag IVB - Muhlberg on Elbe

I was in a compound of about 2,500 airmen in the RAF, RCAF, RNZAF and RAAF. There were about twenty other nationalities than airmen. Mostly were military men of enemy nations of Germany. The total number in the camp was about 28,000.

Doug Hawkes

Food Story

Don McDevitt, my wireless operator on 419 Squadron RCAF, Herb Krentz and I decided that if Europe has been successfully invaded, then Germany will have troubles to the extent that International Red Cross would have difficulty in delivering the thousands of Red Cross food parcels to Prisoners of War. We had better save one parcel a week between the three of us. Each prisoner of the Allies, received one parcels each, at this time in the war. It is what kept us healthy.

After about six weeks, Red Cross cut us down to 2/3rds of a parcel per week, so by this time we had six in storage, and were adjusted to the rations. In some Stalag and Luft Camps, the Germans guards would come along and puncture any stored foods, so that it would not be possible to save for an escape. We were not bothered. Mind you we had them out of sight of the normal guard walk through.

Until the Allies were stopped at Arnheim Bridge, it had seemed that the Germans were on the run. We will not be home by Xmas.

In preparation for Xmas, Herb, who spoke good German, arranged with one of the guards that he smuggle some of our cake making ingredients, in his gas mask carrier, to his wife for her to bake us a Christmas cake. It came back the same way.

In our hut we had an Englishman who was a pastry cook in civil life. He suggested that the cake was so nice it should be decorated. He did a beautiful job, to the extent that many others wanted him to help them. It was all done so well that we held an open house, so that fellow POW's could come through our billet and see this display.

We decided that for Christmas we would have a special dinner. Sid Leaman, a RAF type, had sheets sent to him in a parcel. It reminded a quotation mother repeated at times:

"Get up you lazy sinners,
We use the sheets for table clothes.
Its nearly time for dinner."

With that, we decided to have a table of about ten, so we took one of Sid's sheets and laundered it for a tablecloth. Very deluxe. We did have a special Red Cross Christmas parcel. We also decided that we would try to make a Christmas pudding. I can remember trying to breathe in the smoke filled shower room to keep the water boiling. No wonder many of us have lung problems.

The next day, thousands of American army POW's marched into camp, from the Battle of the Bulge. There were so many that they were not even searched. They had lots of American Cash, good wrist watches and other treasures to sell. The problem was that they needed food and shelter. We went from 210 POW's in our billet to 300 or more. We had to sleep in shifts. It was not a very nice site. Germans were in a real fix as was Red Cross for parcels. George Evans article "For The Sake of Comparison" will tell the story of near starvation in our hut. There was an exception.

Don, Herb and I had several parcels in hiding which we carefully consumed. It was not a very nice feeling, eating, when so many were hungry. The early sacrifice was the reason. The month of January 1945 was not a very happy time. Then parcels arrived in early February. With the news of Russian and Allies successes we felt much more optimistic, and eagerly looked forward to our release.

Doug Hawke's POW Picture

There was news of forced marches by POW's. We were conscious that it might happen to us. As it turned out we were equal distant from approaching Russian and Allied Forces, it was futile for the Germans to move us. As it turned out the American and Russian forces met at Torgou, about 12 miles north of our camp.

Some POW's did take off immediately. Those that went north, were turned over to the Americans and were back in England soon after. Don and Herb and other members of my crew lived off the land for sometime. Eventually the whole camp of Allied forces was marched to Strehla, and Reca. Don and Herb and I took over a small acreage where we once again lived off the land.

I had noticed a group of Russian former prisoners heading east. On inquiring I learned that there was a narrow gauged railway train, leaving in an hour for the front. Many of us made it to the train and crossed into American lines on my birthday May 17th, 1945.

For The Sake of Comparison

With Freedom rattling the gates of our prison we can do more than recall the most utterly miserable period of our Prisoner of War Life, the starvation and cold of January, 1945, the coldest spell that Europe has seen in fifty years. Recall January 1945, not reasons of self pity to make us feel important at home. But, as a beautiful diamond is set off best against a cushion of black velvet, so may we fully appreciate whatever conditions we are returning to by comparing them with that bleak period.

While we receive every week 10 lbs. of Red Cross food, we despised the German rations, apart from potatoes and bread. The daily soups ration, German cheese, and German jam were the butt of a very great amount of sarcasm and wit, while the margarine was only fit for frying.

Half parcels made very little difference - a kilogram tin of German corned beef was given for a dozen tomatoes very frequently. Christmas 1944 was celebrated luxuriously; all men had twice as much food as he could comfortably eat little did we anticipate our conditions for a fortnight later.

December 29th was our last issue of Red Cross parcels until Feb. 8th - but it was made to tied us over the New Years celebrations. On the same day the first of 6,000 American, captured just prior to Christmas in the German push, arrived. It was their condition that made us realize how cold it was. They had been traveling eight days in cattle trucks without any heating and very little food - some even suffering from frostbite. We wondered as we fed them with hot peas flour soup and cups of tea, that they still shivered after being in doors an hour. Our hut strength was increased from 210 to 329 men.

The arrival of Americans emptied our parcel magazine - at the same time the fuel supply was short. But we were not unduly worried, parcels had always arrived in time before.

The first week passed, no parcels arrived and the cold got more bitter. Each night we sat around in our great coats with no fires, acutely conscious of our feet. In bed each man tried in vain to keep a spark of warmth, but the cold squeezed its way right into the heart Health problems became evident as the arrivals succumbed to violent stomach disorders and their temporary apathy made them neglect personal cleanliness.

On January 13, 1945 the majority of the Americans left. Several had died of pneumonia or similar complaints, caused by lack of food and intense cold. WE were now beginning to learn the meaning of hunger. Every ounce of sauerkraut tasted delicious, each piece of turnip was relished, and the cheese we had previously complained about to Geneva, went down well with a little salt. Tempers were lost over trivialities, fight started quickly, men stole food from their comrades. And above all, the cold ate away our spirit.

Very slight relief came the third week with the issue of a medical parcel between eight men. The amount of food was negligible bit we did have a milk drink every night for seven days.

The fourth week saw us more and more apathetic. Marvelous Russian advances from the Vistula to the Oder meant far less than the discovery that heated mashed potato peelings would be eaten. We lived more like vegetables than human beings with hope life activity. February 3rd hopes ran very high. A truck was in Muhlberg station! We prayed that it was food - it turned out to be clothing dispatched from Geneva November 23rd. and despair gripped us more acutely.

Then on the morning of February 7th we went on roll call to find that it was warm. Thank God for that warmth. The ice was melting, the ground was soft. Every man smiled and joked. The change was marvelous. Then that same evening "Five trucks are in Muhlberg Station!" We laughed, cheered, yes danced with joy - hands were shaken all round. Life swung into gear once more as the worst spell of our stay in Stalag IVB came to its close.

So, as you sit down to your breakfast of com flakes and swimming in milk and sugar, bacon and eggs and fill the odd comer with toast and marmalade and coffee, hot strong coffee full of cream with loads of sugar. . . . . .

Author: George Evans, RAF, Guilford, England Sunday April 22nd, 1945

We Will Remember

animated maple leaf

Thank you, Veterans,

With sincere gratitude from all Canadians

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