One Man's War
in Christmases Lost
(Dear Ma...Love to Sylvia)
Jack's war (World War 2 WWII )
Jack...just like that!
as told through letters, postcards and photographs, to his Mother, in which "it'll be over by Christmas" was a recurring theme
Enlist,Training, RASC, Overseas started in Egypt, then Verria, Greece, then Crete, Ordered to Surrender, Captured, POW, March, Cattle Truck train journey, 4 years in POW camps in Austria, Stalag XVIII-D (18D) Marburg 1941-43, then Stalag XVIII-A 1943-45..actually more accurately in various work camps administered by Stalags XVIII-D (18D) and XVIII-A, (18A)
We start when Jack, known then as John, is at home in Low Fell, Gateshead. He has reached 22 years of age on 29th August 1939
..3 days later... on 1st Sept 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and 2 days later England and France declared war against Germany.
Low Fell is relatively unaffected at...
A single lad of cannon fodder age facing a likelihood of having to fight for his Country
This is Jack's war story as told through the letters, cards and photos sent to him, and by him, while en route to war and while a POW.
Compiled by, and background information gathered by, his son
Jon Bratton © 2007 .
Contact can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org
His total period away from home at such a tender age...in the photo immediately below he is just 22 ...is measured in Christmases missed
In Civvy Street, Jack drives a van for a living and wears a uniform, so no change being an ambulance driver in the RASC
Jack is Dvr John S. Bratton, T169093 RASC Service record 15th March 1940 to 9th Jan 1946 POW 5685 1941-45
JUNE 18 1940
".......the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin, upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization, upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institution and our Empire." Winston Churchill from his "Finest Hour" speech
This is the Glorious 12th in 1940.... 12th August (Not that Jack knows it but it is 6 years, to the day, before his eldest son is to be born) Jack is with the two daughters of the family he was billoted with. This and the two following photos were sent back to him in the POW Camp, as they are stamped on the back with the Stalag XVIIID stamp. Imagine how precious they were to him and how often he would have looked at them
is Jack with Ma and Sylvia, taken in the back garden of his parents
home, 9 St. Thomas Street, Low Fell, Gateshead while Jack was home on
leave on Sunday 15th Sept 1940 exactly 6 months to the day after
enlisting in the Army and, coincidentally, the very day that the RAF announce victory in the Battle of Britain.
At this stage he has trained but so far he has not left Blighty and has seen no action
This photo, taken on the same day, is left to right,his sister Nellie, his niece Sylvia, our hero himself, his girlfriend Cathy and best pal Bob Cresswell. All will be mentioned in the letters that follow.
The reason for the title "Dear Ma...Love to Sylvia" is because Jack starts and ends every letter that way.
Sylvia is the only grandchild at this stage (the next, John is born at the tail end of Jack's POW days) and each mention of Sylvia's progress in the letters from home shows how fast in progress her 5 years were compared to Jack's 5 years, which must have seemed like an eternity to him
This is Sylvia 5 years after she last saw her Uncle John...Jack is the name he acquired in the Army and he retained it for the rest of his life...altho the original family eg Sylvia continued to call him John
*Letter 20th November 1940 from Jack to home "..on boat, can't say where we are going as we don't know...40 Woodbines cost one shilling.."
Jack Bratton (seated) & Bob Cresswell in Egypt...but the pyramid is the photographer's studio backdrop
1st CHRISTMAS Away 1940
spent in Egypt
...then sent to Verria, in Northern Greece
This photo shows embarcation in Egypt bound for Greece
pic was taken on board the S. S. Nurmahal en route to Greece in about
Feb 1941. It was sent back to his Ma with the inscription "Keep this photo good as a lot of these boys are missing"
Jack is 2nd from right in the second row from the top. Bob is 3rd from right
* Letter dated 6 Aug 1941 from RASC Hastings To POW's mother that her son was at the British POW Camp Corinthia, Greece (Old news by the time it arrived).
*Pre-printed postcard from Jack to his mother, received Sept 41 saying I am a POW and in good health
* Letter dated 14 Sept 1941 from Jack (Stalag XVIII-D) to home
"..Had 4 parcels"... (2 British and 2 Canadian RC Parcels)
This is the arrival of those parcels, as described by Douglas Arthur in his book, shown below
The British Weekly Red Cross Food Parcels, which were vital to the POW's health, perhaps even survival, varied depending on availability but contained all or some of the following
1/4lb packet of tea, tin of cocoa powder, bar of milk or plain chocolate, tinned pudding, tin of meat roll, tin of processed cheese, tin of condensed milk, tin of dried eggs, tin of sardines or herrings, tin of , tin of margarine, tin of sugar, tin of vegetables, tin of biscuits, bar of soap, tin of 50 cigarettes or tobacco (sent separately)
For more on general conditions in the POW camps in Germany, Austria, Slovenia etc, and the vitally important Red Cross Parcels, CLICK HERE
"...none from home yet... We are allowed to send 2 letters and 4 postcards per month by Airmail..."
*From Jack (Stalag XVIII-D) to home dated 14th December 1941 "I must tell you of my luck last week. I drew for some Red Cross Clothes and I was lucky enough to get a woollen shirt, Pyjamas and socks. They came in very handy.".
This is Jack and buddies in Verria Greece March 1941 ...see next photo which was taken on the same day
The inscription on the back
Verria, Greece March 1941
Pat and I with the Boys
Following the mainland Battle of Greece Jack
was evacuated to Crete,
where he was captured, along with about 10,000 Brits, Aussies and
Kiwis, effectively abandoned, to cease heavy Royal Navy losses in carrying out further evacuation) As you will read in the letters Jack's Ambulance Orderly
did evacuate from Crete. "I fell straight to sleep, when I awoke, he was gone
and so was the Ambulance. I wasn't alone, the boys in Blue Grey had come out of the sky"
Presumably the Orderly headed for the evacuation point. It is believed that he must have been one of
the last to leave the Island. Jack believed that it was 27th April 1941 but I think he is a month out because the paratrooper ("the boys in Blue Grey") invasion of Crete did not take place in April..it was between 20th May and Ist June
2nd CHRISTMAS Away 1941
*From Jack (Stalag XVIII-D) to home March 1942 "Getting your letter every week but still haven't received a parcel yet..expecting it anytime......"
* From Jack (Stalag XVIII-D) to home 5th April 1942 "...I'm enclosing photo- that's a French jacket I'm wearing but since then I've been issued with a new Battledress and Overcoat, Cap and Boots and I am quite a smart soldier again... ...We still get Red Cross Food Parcels every week so things aren't so bad.
Jack's record of parcels throughout his incarceration
keep picturing it in my mind and just laying to get stuck into it. I
have turned quite a good cook what with making cakes custards and so
forth. I will be quite handy to you Ma when I get back We have 3 days
holiday for Easter. Jock (Bill Campbell) and I have just finished our washing and now for the cooking..." (Most men split into pairs to share the parcels, cooking etc)
* From Jack (Stalag XVIII-D) to home dated 19th July 1942 "...Getting my Food Parcels each week so am as happy as can be expected considering the circumstances"
3rd CHRISTMAS Away 1942
From Jack (Stalag XVIII-D) to home dated 10th January 1943 "..Thanks a million for the nice parcel which I received last week..it was dated Sept 14th (4 months) I
am still enjoying the chocolate yet. It must have been underweight
because the Red Cross put a pullover and 2 pairs of socks in to make up
the weight. Try to send me some singlets and short pants and more socks
and, before I forget, a kit bag or case. I hope I am not asking for too
Stalag XVIII-A Wolfsburg
In Feb 1943 Jack was transferred from Stalag XVIIID (18D) Marburg, Slovenia to Stalag XVIIIA (18A) Wolfsburg, Austria. Just like at 18D, a prisoner did not usually stay long in Stalag 18A, as it was a clearing camp for scores of working camps throughout Austria. Within a few days Jack was assigned to GW67, a Work Party (Arbeitskommando), which normally comprised 15 to 20 men. The 'lucky' ones would be assigned to farm work, where there was a least a chance of adequate food. This was an aspiration of Jack but he had a long wait, and a few disappointments, before he managed to get farm work
* From Jack (Stalag XVIII-A) to home dated 14th March 1943 "..That chap Collings, I knew him alright, he was my Ambulance Orderly. He was with me the day before I was taken prisoner. He left me on 27th April (Suspect this should be 27th May 1941). I was too tired to move. We both went into cover and I fell straight to sleep, when I awoke, he was gone and so was the Ambulance.
I wasn't alone, the boys in Blue Grey had come out of the sky. <<(Airborne invasion of Crete by German Paratroopers) Please tell him to write to me. ..Good news, we are having a Food Parcel every week now (temporary shortage of supply over) and it makes life very much sweeter in this POW Camp. Send some cigarettes, I could do with some..."
Note that every one of the hundreds of letters and cards that Jack sent are written in pencil. Most of the letters to him are also in pencil but some are written in dippy or fountain pen ink. Ladislo Biro created the first ballpoint pen in the late 1930s and licensed the manufacture to an English firm. It gained its fame among allied pilots during the war, who relied upon the ability of the Biro to write in unpressurized cockpits at high altitude. But it was well after the war that the average person had one
WORK IN PROGRESS
* From Jack to sister Nellie dated 6th May 1943 "...Fancy you getting married. You know I can't believe my own eyes when I read some of the letters I get. Every body and everything is changing so much. I will be like a stranger when I get back...."
*From Jack to home dated 13th June 1943 "...I will be leaving this Camp ( Work Camp GW67) shortly but just carry on sending to the same address until I notify you. I have been turned down twice for farmwork but it seems pretty sure this time. All my pals think I am mad for wanting to change my home here, but I must have a change. This is Whit Monday today and we have had three days holiday.
We were at the Pictures yesterday and if we keep our noses clean until next week we are going to a Circus. The weather here is glorious which makes life a lot happier. We held a dance in the Camp last night and it went off OK even without women..."
Note Douglas Arthur's letters and cards were not kept..pity, they're worth 6 quid each on Ebay
*From Jack to home dated 27th Sept 1943 "..I received a Clothing Parcel from you last week. I was very pleased with it. It was posted in May. Thanks for the kit bag, also the chocolate...The weather here is very hot and we are all looking like ni****s again. You will notice my new GW number. (new number GW 65 previously GW 67 but not the farmwork he so much wanted) I am on a new firm and I am working in the town, the people are very sociable to us. We have to walk 6 kilos every day but it will be alright when the cooler weather comes. The padre came from the Stalag and we had a lovely service this morning, he told us the history of St Martin's in the Field and Dick Shepherd the pacifist vicar, it was very nice. I am working in a trench just outside of a house and there is a little ( there follows a big chunk of material censored... the only bit of censoring in all the hundreds of letters and postcards)...."
* From Jack to home dated 22nd Nov 1943 "..We had our first fall of snow last week and what a fall..in fact it hasn't knocked off yet. We have good warm clothes and two pairs of boots so we shouldn't take so bad. I still have my job in town and finish everyday at dinnertime...I haven't had any mail from Ellen since August, I think she must have tired. I really can't blame her can I ?..."
* From Jack to home dated 2nd December 1943 " I was very pleased to receive your letter of 25th Oct which I receved yesterday. Thanks for the photos they brought back lovely memories to me...We are hoping to have 10 days holiday at Xmas... I hope to be home for Xmas 1944. Oh boy when I think of it I get all excited..."
* From Jack to home dated 19th Dec 1943 "...We are all set for Xmas again. We will have some good food and perhaps a little beer to help us all forget where we are for a few hours. All the boys here are certain that this will be the last Xmas we spend away from home. Let's hope so...(Sorry guys you've still got Xmas 1944 to endure)
4th CHRISTMAS Away 1943
*From Jack to home dated 2nd Jan 1944 "Here we go to give you all a rough idea of how I spent my fourth Xmas away from home. On Xmas Eve we had a Nativity Play and Xmas night was a grand Concert. There was plenty of 'beer' and it went down well. I'm afraid it didn't stay down in me as I was gloriously sick, in fact I couldn't stop. I even had the bowl in bed with me. I will never forget it as long as I live. The boys told me I went white at first and slowly went green. I can laugh now when I think of myself lying there with two of the boys holding my hands..I hope you all had a good time at home and that the men folk managed to get leave...My love and kisses to darling Sylvia"
Douglas Arthur in his book says of the boozy Christmas "This came about because it was the general opinion in the camp that 1943 would be the last Christmas in captivity...half a dozen illicit stills had been set up....I don't remember any thing else, except waking next morning with a cracking headache and then retching and vomiting all day without leaving my bunk...British medical staff imposed a ban on all plonk distilleries and ordered their destruction. Plonk was never brewed again in Stalag XVIIIA"
*From Jack to home dated 20th Feb 1944
*From Jack to home 30th April 1944 " ...Tomorrow is May day and we have a holiday and it will be well spent in the bed most of the time. We all look forward to weekends so we can have a tongue wag and a rest. It is surprising how many miles I walk in a week around the fields. We have done all our plowing & setting and now we are waiting for a drop of rain...I am not getting much mail and I keep wondering whether or not you are getting all my letters & photos.... Give my love to Sylvia...
* From Jack to home dated Ist Sept 1944..."I can't find words to tell you how proud I am of Edie (Edie is Jack sister and had just given birth to her first child..a boy)
5th CHRISTMAS Away 1944
Jack ceases to be a POW on 21st May 1945 and returns to Ol' Blighty in the Summer of 1945
In no time at all he meets this 21 year old Low Fell lass ...Eva Loxley
And then at last it's all officially over...he's discharged and within a fortnight of that he marries his sweetheart
Total Service 5 years 301 days or to put it another way 2,127 days!!
of which 1,461 days were spent as a Prisoner of War
Military Conduct: Exemplary
(fit to be imitated; outstandingly good)
If you wish to see how Jack's life pans out Click here