The Sardine Can Keys

Frank Anton


Rank: Sergeant
Squadron: 50
AC ED 387
Aircraft: Lancaster
Date: 25/2/43
Target: Nuremberg
Stag VIII B/344
POW# 27543

I was a Sergeant in 50 Squadron. On Feb. 25, 1943, we were in a Lancaster heading for our target Nuremberg when we were shot down. Not all of the crew survived. Three were killed, 4 survived only to have one crew member die on the death march.

I was taken to Stalag VIII B by train, after three days of solitary in an air force interrogation camp. I was allowed to keep nothing but the uniform I wore. My POW number was 27543 but I no longer have the tag.

When we arrived at camp, we were housed in an army barrack until space was found in the air force compound. The air force barrack was wooden. Inside were three tier wooden beds, with straw mattresses and one blanket.

At camp we had roll call morning and night in the parade square. Most of the guards were ok if you obeyed the rules. They had very unfriendly dogs.

We didn’t do any work as Sergeants and above were not required to work under the terms of the Geneva Convention.

As far as food supply goes, we were fed ersatz tea, turnip soup, potato and bread rations. For hungry young men, the most welcome news was that Red Cross parcels had reached the camp and would soon be distributed. On the days that food parcels were actually distributed, spirits soared, especially if the parcels were from New Zealand. These contained 6-ounce tins of high energy chocolate. We knew we were not going to become impotent after savouring this special New Zealand treat. You see, in 1943, the rumour spread that the barley soup was contaminated with ergot that was said to cause infertility. Many married men refused to eat it. The Red Cross eventually circulated written memos that the barley was not tainted with ergot. I received one Red Cross parcel per week, shared with another POW.

How did we combat boredom in camp? Well, I opted for the camp school, which was staffed by POW’s. I studied German, English Literature, etc.

Whenever a birthday or other holiday came along, we would all sit around and speculate when we would get home.

The goofiest thing I ever did was to take up knitting swim trunks! Not that there was anywhere for swimming. None of us had underwear, so I knit swim trunks to take their place.

The best thing I pulled over on the guards was pretending to wear “the chain” issued each day. So how did we open the cuffs? We had found out that those little sardine cans had keys that would open the cuffs! So we would open them as soon as the guards weren’t looking, and then just stuff the chain and our hands into our pockets pretending to be chained.

All the air force and Dieppe POW’s in Stalag VIII B were required to wear handcuffs from 8AM to5 PM daily. This order was in reprisal for the manacling of German soldiers captured at Dieppe in august of 1942. The Order was rescinded during the summer of 1943, following diplomatic intercession by Count Bernadotte of Sweden and the Red Cross.

My best friends in camp were of course the crew I had flown with. There were many nationalities in camp- British, Irish, Canadian, Polish, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Rhodesians, and Cypress etc. etc.

This is how we were liberated. Stalag VIII B (renamed Stalag 344) was in East Germany, We were marched out on January 22 1945, and finally came to rest at Stalag XIB in N.W. Germany at the end of March. We were liberated by the British Army. We were too debilitated to feel happiness and the canned food provided by the Army made many of us sick. I weighed 90 lbs on the day I was freed. I ate fatty foods to try to put on weight. The Medics examined us and then we were flown out to the UK. I got hepatitis from eating the fatty foods and ended up in hospital for three weeks at RAF Station, Cosford, UK.

I was RAF and discharged in England. In 1952 I joined the RCAF Reserve.

We Will Remember

animated maple leaf

Thank you, Veterans,

With sincere gratitude from all Canadians

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