In September 2013, June Newton emailed me after finding her late father-in-law's name included in my article about escapers from Germany. June then sent me George Newton's own account of events, which he wrote sometime in the 1960s and which is reproduced below. I have compared the account with George's MI9 report (written in 1945) and other sources, made a couple of corrections to dates and added a few minor details that George may not have known at the time.
Dad's Army – by Driver George Newton RASC (3027)
In September 1939, when war broke out, I was driving petrol tankers for the National Benzole Company. The Pool Board was formed and I drove for the Board, shunted here and there doing any kind of work to help the war effort. In December 1939, the RASC was forming a special company – No 3 Bulk Petrol Company – and drivers under 25 were asked to volunteer. Seven of us joined from the Newcastle area, we were sworn in and received the King's shilling. Travelling warrants came and I was posted to Ramsgate. I was billeted with a Mrs Harding. Training began next day, that is if it could be called training - 9am start, 10.30 to 11.00 break, 12.00 noon to 1.30 lunch and 4pm finish. I didn't possess a uniform in the first weeks. Training consisted of poison gas talks and advice on coping in the event of a gas attack. Rifle drill was done with broom shank, slope arms and present arms.
Time passed. I received my uniform – it fitted where it touched. During my training I never saw a rifle and never fired one either. The day came when we went to Aldershot to pick up tankers which were to take to France, a great day. We left Dover for France on a day in March. This was my very first trip out of England and I was looking forward to it very much. Unloading at Dunkirk took some time. Driving away from Dunkirk on the right hand (side of the road).
We drove through France to the town of Honfleur, which is situated on the river Seine. Le Havre is on the other side of the river. The tankers were duly parked on the dockside, guards had to be mounted at night. The guards had rifles but were not issued with ammunition or bayonets. Guarding 36 tankers in this way didn't feel right to me but it was done ‘Dad's Army' way. Things settled down, daily cleaning and keeping up the 21-point maintenance army plan for the tankers, waiting for the day to start on the job we had come here to do.
The big day came on 19 May 1940 – the tankers were loaded, 1,500 gallons each. The first convoy of 24 tankers, driver and mate on each, one Captain, two DRs (despatch riders), a breakdown vehicle, - a small Bedford truck - and mounted on the rear of the truck was a machine-gun but no ammunition. Full defence for the convoy was one machine gun and 24 unloaded rifles.
The convoy moved off heading for Belgium, a great feeling. The first day went without mishap. That night was spent sleeping in the cab or under the tanker. The next morning, 20 May, we were ready to move at the break of light – the order to retreat had come through and was announced by the officer. He gave all the mates five rounds of ammunition and I remember his words clearly, “Be careful with them”. My mate had great difficulty in putting the bullets in the breach of the rifle, I was no help to him, as I had said, I had never handled a rifle. The turn round was made and the convoy moved off head to tail. Things did not go so easy as the roads were now full of refugees escaping to the south from the German advance. The convoy got divided, I was in the rear half, there were many stops and hold-ups.
In the rear, the DR in charge was a regular soldier who enjoyed a drink and he would stop at a cafe and have a few drinks. On doing this, he missed the front of the convoy which had turned for the coast at a fork in the road and the second half turned inland. After driving a few miles and not coming up on the front half of the convoy, we were stopped while the DR tried to locate them. We sat on the grass at the side of the road, it was a beautiful day. We talked, ate chocolate and smoked [with] not a care in the world.
Things were very quiet and then we heard the sound of a plane getting nearer and it flew very low overhead. The pilot and second could be seen, my first sight of Germans, he waved his wings and flew off –comment – “Cheeky bastards”. Fifteen minutes must have passed when the sound of tanks was heard and two tanks could be seen coming towards us. The betting started - were they French, Belgian or British? The tanks opened fire and bullets went over our heads, they were not trying to kill us, our first sight of the German war machine, they kept up their fire and were getting nearer. What to do? Twelve rifles in the hands of boys who had no firing experience and only five rounds for each rifle. Nothing could be done.
The first tank stopped and the officer spoke in English, telling the boys to put their rifles down. There was no point in resisting. The German officer was very pleasant, his words “For you the war is over and you will go to Berlin”. Our first job not completed and [we were] taken prisoner-of-war. A very short army career, less than five months. Later the 24 of us were escorted by guards to a French church and put in the two front pews. We sat there with mixed feeling. Out of the rear of the church appeared a very tall priest dressed in black, black hat and a large gold cross hanging around his neck. He came to us and motioned us to pray. The tears were running down the cheeks of my young mate, mine were held inside. We all had the feeling that this was the end and that we were going to be shot. I have never been a religious man before but for those moments, I prayed very hard – fear levels many people. This fear ended when many French and Belgian prisoners were brought into the church.
We stayed for four days in the church and more British prisoners joined us there. There was no food, just water. The French and Belgians were well prepared, they had their knapsacks full of tins and other foodstuffs. The Germans kept a guard sitting in the doorway with a machine-gun facing into the church. Every so often he would let a burst of fire go into the ceiling - there were no heads to be seen during these bursts of fire.
The march through France, the column of prisoners numbered thousands, French in the forefront, Belgians following then British, and following the British were French Moroccans. On this march, three of us stuck together and shared what we had. Dash Potts and a corporal whose name I have forgotten. Dash Potts (Dvr Thomas Potts RASC) comes in again in the story. I took the job of hunting for food with the aid of Dash. The corporal had to carry what we managed to find. This was the seed potatoes dug from the fields and anything that was edible.
Fifteen to twenty miles a day on the promise of food at the end, which was never there, a large field was more often the camp for the night and a queue. The potatoes were boiled on an open fire, the only meal of the day. Potatoes could sold for money but the belly was more important. This life continued for weeks.
The railhead was reached and we were packed into cattle trucks and transported to Germany. I am sure the first camp was Trieste. There we received our first meal, a basin of soup. After staying there for a few days, we British were once again packed into cattle trucks and arrived at a Polish prisoner-of-war camp (Stalag XXIB near Schubin).
In the following days, names and addresses were registered and numbered, mine was 4103, we were allowed to write a few lines on a card and these were sent via the Red Cross to England. Weeks of boredom did not help morale. Two hundred men were wanted for a work party, my name went down with my two pals. This job was digging a canal by hand. Transported by truck to this camp, an old mill, three stories high. This was near the town of Wkoswanak. Christmas went by and Spring was on the way, and escape was in the minds of a few of us. Potts and myself decided to escape and then (Pte) John Grant said he would like to come and we accepted him.
Sunday the 6th of April was to be the night, a dirty wet night. Eight men escaped that night through a very small steel window on the ground floor. One man got out, the window was replaced until the guard had passed, then the next man and so forth until the eight men were out. I have not seen again the other five who escaped. We travelled until dawn and then we had to find somewhere to hide for the day. We decided to hide in the very poorest farms in the hope that the occupants were Polish, as the Germans had taken over the larger farms. We knew no Polish or German and this was not going to make it easy. We found our small farm and got into a hay shed, we tunnelled down into the hay to get warm as the three of us were wet through. Sleep did not come easily but we finally nodded off.
We were awakened by footsteps on the ground below us and peeping down we could see an old man, very poorly dressed. He also had a wooden leg. We were hungry and thirsty and decided to take a chance on this old man. It turned out he was Polish and willing to help us. This was all done by hand signs. Later, after darkness fell, he came for us and took us to his small house, where he gave us a bowl of hot soup and some bread. We thanked him and the march in the dark started again. Travelling in a strange country, and in the dark, is not an easy task.
After travelling for four nights we found we had not covered many miles, not that it mattered much as we had plenty of time on our hands. We decided to travel during the day and keeping south. When we did see German patrols on the road, we picked up stones from the fields, acting as farm workers. We made better time travelling during the day.
We arrived at the small Polish town of Kutno at Easter. We found a small Polish farm nearby and luckily, the owner, an old man, was very helpful. He asked us to stay for Easter. We were billeted in a stable with two horses for company. We stayed there from Good Friday (11 April 1941) until Easter Tuesday. We were treated very well. We were fed and had a good Easter holiday. He gave us some good advice through hand signs. He advised us to go east to Russia. It was not as far as going south, and the travelling would be much easier. We thanked the family and left on the Tuesday heading east, acting as usual as farm workers if German patrols passed on the road.
After a few days of travelling, sleeping where we could at night, in haystacks, in fields or behind hedgerows. It was not very warm. We were walking across a field and a Polish worker beckoned with the usual signs, he gave us to understand that there were Germans ahead. We often wondered if a sort of grapevine existed and they knew that three Englishmen had escaped the Germans and were heading for Russia and asked to help us on our way. He took us to a very small house, one large room where all the family lived. We stayed the night sleeping in the same room as the family. Next morning, he pointed to a small bridge where two German soldiers were patrolling. This was what the Poles called the Green Border and the Eastern Poland cut off from the west side, not heavily patrolled. We were told that the best time to cross the river was at lunchtime as the guards left the bridge and went to a house for lunch.
When the Germans went for lunch, not too fast but nonchalantly, we walked until we got to the bridge then ran as fast as we could. When we figured we were a good distance from the bridge, we lay down to get our breath back, congratulating ourselves on our escape. From the signs we had been given, we understood there were no Germans on the eastern side of this so called Green frontier. We started to walk again - but this time we were singing.
We stopped at a larger house and asked for water. They did not seem to be the same type of people we had met previously. They gave us water but we got the impression they did not wish us to linger. We moved on thinking we had our first mistake in making direct contact.
As I previously stated, we had gained the impression there were no Germans in this part of Poland, so made the error of walking along the roads instead of across the fields. We had not travelled far when, glancing behind us, we glimpsed a smart young man on a pedal cycle. He cycled alongside us and stopped. In broken English he said “You are English soldiers?” We nodded and said “Come” and he took us off the road into a man-made pine tree forest. He took us deeper into the forest and said “You stay here, there are many Germans near”. He left us and said he would come back later. He came back later the same evening and brought us food and water. When he was leaving, he told us not to move out of the forest. We slept under the trees, covered with leaves and branches to keep warm.
Next day at noon, a young woman on horseback brought food and water and the usual signs that we were to stay where we were. We built a small tent of branches the keep the cold out at night. We stayed there for 26 days. During that time the local people fed us. We had our first taste of Wodka in that forest.
I would like to mention a few things that happened in that forest. I was sitting doing my toilet one morning away from our tent. I looked up and there looking at me was a German officer. I have never pulled my trousers up so fast in my life. They were up and I was running away towards the tent, warned my friends and we were away, running like hares. When darkness fell, we crept back to the tent and everything was in order. We tried to snare hares with a piece of string without success and fried eggs in an empty Players cigarette tin. I should have mentioned previously that we had been supplied with civilian clothing from the old farmer at Kutno. We passed many hours in the forest killing body lice, we had a bath in a small stream but the voracious monsters refused to drown. Our English speaking friend came one afternoon to tell us he had made contact with the underground in Warsaw and we would leave the next day.
We left the forest the next day and travelled by horse and cart and then boarded a bus for Warsaw. We knew the guide was on the bus but he did not make contact.
We arrived in Warsaw without incident, there had been no German checks. We would have been in trouble if they had for we had no papers. On arrival we were met by another guide, we followed at a distance behind him. We ended that day in a Polish nunnery. A hot bath, a change of clothing, a good supper and a clean bed. Heaven itself, if there is such a thing as heaven. After two days of bathing and clean clothes, the lice disappeared.
An English woman came to see us. Her name is Mrs Walker and she was married to a Pole. She arranged for photographs to be taken for identity cards and we were issued with them. Edward Kowalski was my Polish name, in English, Edward Smith. I stayed there for two days and Mrs Walker came for me. My two friends were taken to another house. I can't remember how long I lived there. I was well taken care of and managed a daily walk in the park which was near to the house.
There was a project to get us through the German lines by the underground into Russia. The Germans attacked the Russians on 20th June 1941 and the front line went miles into Russia in a few days, that made it impossible to get through. We were told to sit tight until something else turned up. Later, I was taken to a large block of flats and delivered to a dentist, Tosha, she took great care of me. She bought me cigarettes and took me out to lunch every day - a great girl, I lived with her for three months. Most of the flats in the block were taken by Germans. Tosha was taken by the Gestapo in 1942, but lived, and is still living, in Warsaw.
When I left Tosha, I was delivered to Wictor Lentz, an ex-Polish Army officer and practicing lawyer. His old aunt and niece lived with him and I had some good drinking times with him. Most of the people spoke a little English and were eager to learn. I had learned a little Polish and German and could visit different parts of Warsaw and visit Polish friends. I had a good Polish friend who owned a bar and I would go there for a drink. I was sitting at the bar one night and got involved with two Germans, an army captain and one of the German police. I had a great night, they bought all the drinks and the captain sang “You Are My Heart's Desire”. In German I think it is “Du Bist Mein Ganszest Hertz”. Many of the Germans sing very well. I enjoyed the night.
I had to move house again, this time to a young divorced Polish girl, Alice. My stay there could not have been better, home from home. We enjoyed each others company for six months.
I was contacted by the underground who asked if I would take a chance and try to get to Spain. I said I would, Things went ahead and the route had been worked out. There were three of us [George, John Grant & Sgt Charles McDonald RAF] going to make this journey. Photos were taken and identity cards forged and stamped with the German stamp. I was still E Kawalski but now I was a drainage expert and a volunteer to work for the Germans in Germany. The three of us left Warsaw one morning in March 1943 and travelled to Krakow. We stayed the night in a Polish house there and the next morning, boarded a train for Berlin. A guide was on the train, near at hand.
It's not clear what happened to Thomas Potts – Newton's MI9 report says that he was arrested in Warsaw in January 1944 and not heard from since ...
On arrival in Berlin, we walked around and toured the city on an overhead train, very little bombing had been done at this time. We retired to bed in a German-Polish house. We left Berlin the next night to travel to the western part and to our workplace. Our papers were checked four times on the train journey and found to be in order.
The next morning, we arrived at our destination (Diedenhofen/Thionville) and were taken to a house very near the French border. The man of the house was a miner and worked for the Germans over the border. He worked on night shift and left the house around midnight. He carried his lamp lit. The scheme was to follow well behind and if the light kept moving, we were to follow. If the light stopped, we were to hurry back to the house and try again the following night. The first night, we were obliged to go back to the house but on the next night the light kept moving over the frontier. We were taken to a house where our Polish papers were destroyed and we were issued with French identification. The French underground had taken over from the Polish.
The next morning we boarded a train to Nancy and from there to Paris. I lived in a house in Paris until May. I travelled on the Metro and went to Luna Park, drove dodgem cars, bombed the Germans who were there driving these cars and on the whole, had a good time.
We (George and John Grant) left Paris on the 22nd May to Lyon (for four days) and Perpignan. That night, we were taken to a warehouse and met the rest of the party with whom I was to travel to Spain, about twenty in number. French, Dutch, Americans, Belgians and British Air Force boys.
W/O Robert Hale RAF (LIB/1464) – who was captured with George and John Grant – says they were a party of 7 servicemen + 2 Belgians and 3 French – and that they were captured at (or near) Elne, south of Perpignan, on 31 May 1943. The other four were also airmen : F/Lt Wilfred Murphy RCAF (LIB/37) W/O Archibald Cowe (LIB/560) W/O Ronald Limage (LIB/1248) and an American 2/Lt who I've not yet been able to identify ...
It had been arranged that on the night of 30th May, a Spanish guide would take us up the mountain to a small farm, then cross over the top the next night. We went in single file, keeping our distance but not losing sight of the man in front. We travelled for some time and did not seem to be getting anywhere. The guide had got himself lost, or got cold feet, I'm not sure which. We were told to get down into a ditch in the middle of some fields and stay there for the night – which we did.
Monday 31st May was a lovely day. We were still lying in the ditch wondering what was happening. We could see the farm up on the mountain which had been our target for the previous night. We lay there waiting, looking at freedom which was only ten miles away in Spain. At about six o'clock that night, a small open truck stopped on the road near the field and a man came out. He told us to come and get on the truck. I was sitting in the back of the truck and could see the Pyrenees, not long to go now.
A German car passed with four men in and looked as they passed. We came to a crossroads not far from the mountains and the Germans were waiting. Our driver was French and, to take us on the last step, was Spanish guide and his wife. The truck stopped quickly, the Spaniard and his wife jumped down and began to run. Shots were fired, the wife was killed and the man wounded. The truck was surrounded, Germans everywhere. All that travel and caught again only five miles from freedom. Not a very happy thought, and expecting to be shot at any moment. We were manhandled from the truck, hands in the air, and lined up. They brought the Spanish guide in front of us and hit him on the head with a revolver butt until the blood began to flow, then took photographs. We were taken from there back to Perpignan, once more a prisoner.
I was in prison at Perpignan for four days. Food was very scarce. Fleas the size of bees and did they bite? From there, by train, back the way I came, to Paris under heavy guard. At Paris station we were taken from the train, put into heavily guarded trucks and taken to Fresnes Prison.
We were stripped of our watches, ties, bootlaces and belts then taken to a cell. We were four to a cell. Fresnes Prison is one of the largest in Paris. There was no food that night. To sleep when one is hungry is not easy, when one does fall asleep, the mind is not sleeping as food is the only thought.
During the night, the guard came every hour and peeped through a small hole in the very heavy door, the light was not put out but dimmed. Around 5.30am there were sounds of work going on, and around 6.30, the door was opened and we were given a tin cup of black coffee, no sugar. This was our first meal of the day. At noon, a basin of cabbage soup. Tea was around 4.15, a slice of bread and a piece of stinking cheese. This was the daily ration for the five and half months I was there. After one week, I was taken from the cell to a courtyard and put into a Black Maria, not knowing what was going to happen next. When the van stooped and the door was opened, I was taken into a large building, up some stairs and into a room and told to sit down. After sitting there for half an hour, I was taken into another room and told to sit facing a German officer across a large desk. There was some food and fruit on the desk. The officer spoke English. His first words were “If you are good to me, I shall be good to you”. The interrogation started.
“When did you escape?” - “6th of April” I replied (this was 1943). “Ah! then you have been away for three months?” - “Not April this year”, I said, “April 1941”.
He was very surprised and my interrogation lasted around two hours. He wanted to know where I had been and who had helped me during that time. I kept my answers brief and didn't give any information of any use to him. His last words to me were “You shall go back to prison and rot there”. There was no torture during the interrogation, but I did not get any food off the desk. I was taken back to the prison and put into a cell.
After the first month, I began to think the officer's words would come true and that I would rot there. During my stay there, I was taken out of the cell once a month into the courtyard, which was a roofless cell. I made up my mind then that if I did get back to a Prisoner-of-War camp, I was going to escape again if at all possible. I don't like being barred in.
There was one old German guard who was not of the new Germany. He had been in the First World War. When there was soup left over, he would bring it to the cell from time to time with a little extra bread. Not a bad old fellow. There were many shot during my stay there. I had two hot showers during my five and half months, and the cells were infested with fleas. There were many things that happened during that five and a half months but I will tell that another time ...
Taken from the cell once more, given tie, belt etc. and taken by guard to the station where I boarded a train to return to POW camp. I was very pleased, escape again my only objective.
After a long journey, we arrived at Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) in occupied Poland. We were searched and taken into the camp. I was checked by a doctor and put into hospital, a good bath and clean clothes. It was a great feeling, some decent food and a clean bed. I forgot to mention that I lost two stone during my stay at Fresnes Prison. I stayed in hospital for five weeks, good food, clean clothes etc. I was able to be my old self. When my stay in hospital was over, I was taken to the part of the Stalag which for escapees only, not allowed into the main camp and not allowed to mix with normal prisoners-of-war.
After a month in the special part of the camp for escapees, I was allowed into the main camp and could mix with other prisoners. This was winter 1943, I had two blankets which didn't keep me very warm at night. After one week, I had ten and could sleep. I spent the Christmas in Stalag VIIIB. The boys put on shows and passed the time away. As I said, when I arrived at this camp I had nothing, no shoes, just I stood up in, so I made up my mind to prepare for my next escape, and to do this you had to go it alone. I walked into the Red Cross stores one morning and began to help with the work that had to be done. I was not questioned so I carried on. I stole coffee, tea and other goods to sell for money in order to escape once more in the spring. I was caught stealing and sacked, I shouldn't have been there in the first place but during the weeks I worked in the store, I had got what I needed.
Now I had to get into a working party to make my escape. To do this, I had to go to the German officer in charge and promise I wouldn't escape. I gave my promise. I was checked by the doctor and found fit to work. I contacted the British officer in the charge of the Stalag and told him where I had been and what I intended to do again. I wanted to go on a working party where there was a possible chance to escape. I'll be honest, these officers in charge were very little help, they were sitting the war out in the camp in relative comfort, plenty of food etc. I had more help from the Aussies, Kiwis and Scots.
The time came when I was posted to a working party (at Ragesfeld). This would have been in February 1944. At this camp I became friendly with an Irish lad, Sammy (Pte S Cook). He worked on a farm about twelve miles from the camp and when I asked him if he would come with me when the escape came, he said he would. I wanted his contact with the Polish workers on that farm.
The working party I was put on was supervised by a forced Czech. Polish and Czech are similar languages so I could converse with him. On his leave home, I gave him chocolate, tea and coffee for his wife and two daughters. I keep in touch with him now with letters and photographs. Again, I found the British officers in the camp of little help.
The escape day came, a Saturday (22nd) April 1944. My Czech guard was on leave and I did not want to involve him. He had got train tickets for me. Taken from the main camp to get coal by a British sergeant. Dressed in a dyed uniform under an army overcoat with a civilian hat in my pocket. Near the coal bunker was an air raid shelter. I went into the shelter, took my overcoat off, put on the civvy hat and walked away from the camp. We had half an hour to get to the station, onto the train (to Ratibor) and away to freedom once more. Everything went as planned, the train arrived, we got on and we were on our way. The farm where my friend had worked was just the thing, we stayed there for four days with the Polish workers. This let things quieten down.
We walked to the station and I bought two tickets to Krakow, arriving there without trouble. I spoke to a Pole and asked him to get us two tickets to Warsaw, he was very helpful and did so. The price of the tickets and tip I gave him came from the money I had made from selling the stolen coffee, tea etc. from the Red Cross. The money was put to a good cause. Luckily there were no German checks on the train. If so, we hadn't a leg to stand on as we had no papers.
We arrived at Warsaw station and it was like coming home – I knew where I was. I went to the flat where I had left my girlfriend Alice in 1943 and rang the bell. A man answered the door, I asked for Alice and she came. She could not believe her eyes but could not help me as the man was her husband. She had married again, just my bad luck.
I had to find somewhere that night and try to make contact with the underground next day. I thought of another address nearby of a friend and his wife. We went there, and once again they were very surprised to see me. We were invited to stay the night, given food, had a good drink and talked well into the morning. They spoke English. I had a comfortable bed and a good sleep.
A phone call next morning and again, I was in touch with the underground. I was taken to one house and my friend to another. False papers were made out and I was once more E Kawalski.
I became very friendly with a girl called Ada and I went to live with her. The Russian advance had started and the Poles were ready to free Warsaw, which they did do. The Germans had retreated.
The Russians stopped their advance on the east side of the river Vistula, leaving the west side of the city in the hands of the Poles. The Poles expected the Russians to come through but they did not, thus leaving the Poles to the mercy of the Germans. I got out of Warsaw when the Germans began to bomb the city, and Warsaw fell again to the Germans. I should have crossed the river to the Russian side but I had left it too late. The Germans were there.
The Germans forced the Poles to work on the front line, which was the river Vistula. I volunteered to work for them in the hope of crossing the river to get to the Russians. I worked for only one night. Next day I was made interpreter, ate with the Germans and argued about the war. They all knew that the war was coming to an end and they wanted to go to the west to be caught. I can't remember how long I stayed in Warsaw with the Germans. I had leave from the front line. I went to the captain in charge and started to ask for a pass to leave from the front for three days. He said I spoke German with an English accent. My story was that I had lived in America for some years and had come before the war and now was here. I got the pass speaking English, his English was better than my German.
The German guards were betting that Edward Kawalski would not come back. I went back. I was safer there than in any other part of Poland.
When the Germans were relieved by another German company, I was allowed to leave with them. All alone and nowhere to go. Impossible to cross through to the Russians. It meant that I had to keep myself safe until the Russians started their advance again.
I managed to contact an old Polish friend, Wictor Lentz, who had been a captain and also a lawyer. He took me with him to the small town of Konski and we got a room together in a peasant house. There were many Germans in this area. He left me there and went on some business (doing what, I do not know). After a few days, the Germans began to evacuate, heading west.
I went to the town and there was not a German to be seen. The Poles were looting the German stores. I helped myself too. There was the sound of tanks entering the town. The first Russian tank. I shook hands with the officers and crew and told them I was English. They could not do anything for me but HQ would come later. I should sit tight, they said, and I would get help then. Now I was safe from the Germans. When the Russians took the town [on about 4 January 1945], I went and told them I was English. I had no proof, just my word. I could have been anybody. I was taken to a large van. The Russians in the van were front line police and I was with them in the van. I travelled with them for about ten days, following the front line. Often at night and during the day, I have stood near the big guns and tanks shelling pockets of Germans out of the woods.
I arrived at a Polish town, the name of which I can't remember (Piotrkow) was taken prisoner and searched. Again I told them I was English but it didn't help, I was put into a cell. I was in the cell with two Polish policemen and another man. I never found out what he was.
I was in the cell for a few days when a young Russian officer came in and asked questions. I told him I was English and that I wasn't happy in the cell. He took me from there and gave me a room on the top floor of a building with a bed on the floor. Better than the cell. I was allowed the freedom of the place but not allowed to go out of the main gate. A few days passed and the Russians began to bring in the first German prisoners. The officers were billeted with me in this large room. They had all lost their jack boots. The Russians took all the boots from the prisoners for themselves. The Germans knew for them the war was over and it was only a matter of time before the war would end. I was made interpreter there also. I arranged cooking to be done in the basement. This was mainly soup and bread. The Germans were very pleased to have me there.
A young German captain who had lost his boots and his uniform was in a bad state. He said he was not worried as he had more at home in Berlin. I told him they would not be there when he got home from Russia. A few weeks went past and life went on helping the prisoners to get the food they needed etc. I was in the courtyard when a Polish truck pulled in. I spoke to the captain in charge and asked him where he was going. He was heading away from the front line to the Polish town of Lublin. I asked if he would take me with him and he said he would if I could get permission from the Russians.
I got permission and the Polish officer was told. Once I left the compound, he was in charge of me, which he undertook to do. The Polish officer's words to me were “If you try to escape, I will shoot you”. I told him not to worry, I had no thought of escaping but only to get away from the front. Before I left next day, the Germans shook my hand and thanked me for what I had done for them. They were sorry I was leaving. The Polish captain wasn't very pleased at this hand shaking and told me so.
I was put in the back of the truck, guarded by a Polish soldier with a tommy gun, and truck pulled out of the gate. On the move again. I wondered what the next stop would have for me. Many things happened on that two-day journey. I will talk about that another time ...
On arrival at Lublin, I was given a pass to a cafe to have my meals, not too bad, I met Mrs Walker there. She had gone to the Russians and was safe. I [had] stayed with her in 1941.
I was sitting having my dinner one Sunday when a Russian captain entered with a soldier. He asked “Where is the Englishman?” I put my hand up. He motioned me to go with him. I was taken to a room in a building and told to sit down. A Russian girl came in after about ten minutes. Interrogation on the way again. She spoke to me in German, her first words “You are German”. I said “No, I am English”. This cross talk went on for two or three hours and then she left me. During this interrogation it was the Polish or German language which was used, no English. This was not so easy for me. I was given a room with a bed and told there would be a guard on the door. I didn't want to escape so the guard could have slept if he had wished.
Early next morning I was told to dress and come. I was taken downstairs and waiting outside for me was a jeep, officer, driver and guard. I was ordered into the rear of the jeep with the guard. I asked where they were taking me. I was told “Back to the front line”. I wasn't happy at all. My thoughts were that they were taking me somewhere to shoot me. I was scared. After a few hours travelling, we stopped at a large house and I was taken inside, given some food and smokes, sitting wondering what was going to happen next.
A Russian came in and spoke to me in English. The first English I had heard for months. He said “Are you comfortable?” I replied “Yes, thank you”. I was in the hands of the Russian State Police. Another Russian came in, more interrogation, only this was easier, conducted in English.
“When did you escape?” - “The first time in April 1941 and this time April 1944”. He looked astonished. “Where from and where do you live?”
I told him I lived in England in Newcastle-on-Tyne. I was asked the names of my parents, what my work was, and had I company on my last escape? I explained how we had escaped, that my friend was Irish and his name was Sammy. He had a wife and daughter in Ireland. I was in luck, Sammy had also gone to the Russians, they had interrogated him and our stories were the same. This proved to them that I was English.
They smiled and shook my hand saying they were pleased that I had made it. I was given vodka and toasted often the end of Nazi Germany. I was told that I would be taken in the morning to a camp to meet other prisoners they had freed from the Germans.
I slept well after the drink and was much easier in my mind. The next morning I was driven to this camp. There were hundreds of freed prisoners, American, British, Australian, and New Zealanders. I was still dressed in the civilian clothes I had worn for the last months, with never a change of underwear - I stank and I was lousy.
I entered the camp, a great feeling, I felt safe. The British officer I was taken to wasn't sure if I was English. Another officer, a Dr Richardson of Shotley Bridge, a village near my home, asked where I lived in England. “Blaydon-on-Tyne”. “Do you know 'The Blaydon Races'?” I gave him the first few lines of Blaydon Races which proved I was English. I had a wash, and thanks to the Americans, a change of clothing, smokes and other things. I needed no help from the British. I was once again made interpreter. After a few days, we were moved to Warsaw, an ex-Polish/German barracks. I organised hot water for bathing and other things at this barracks.
An American officer asked me if I would take him to see a little of Warsaw and we set off. I explained to him a few of the things that had happened to me during the time I was in Warsaw. We hadn't gone far when we were stopped by the Russian police and taken to a house where I explained who we were and what we were doing. They were very friendly and wined and dined the officer and I before escorting us back to the barracks.
I'm not sure how many days I stayed in the barracks. We were told we would be travelling to Odessa the next day. The train was made up of cattle trucks and the engine would often stop for wood to make the steam as there was no coal. We arrived in Odessa after a few days in March 1945.
A few days in Odessa then we boarded a ship bound for home. Mrs Walker was also on board, I was pleased to meet her and to know that she too was safe.
We stopped at Port Said for two days and I sent a letter home to my mother to tell her I was on the last leg for home. I have this letter now as my mother kept the few letters I sent whilst I was out of the country for five and half years. The only scare on the journey was that German submarines were still operating. I was hoping that they wouldn't get me after all the miles I had travelled trying to get home. They didn't! The white cliffs of Dover loomed in sight, a wonderful sight, the shores of England.
I was taken from the ship to an army barracks somewhere near London, from there I was taken to an office in London, asked how I had escaped, who had helped me, and also the names of anyone who had not helped me etc. I gave the names of the people who helped me, but as for those who didn't, although I could have done, I would not. It ended there. I met one of those who would not help in a pub in Newcastle later. He wanted to buy me a drink. I told him to **** off. I haven't seen him since.
I was granted one month's leave and travelled on a Sunday from Kings Cross to Newcastle. I took a taxi to Path Head Farm, my home. My people were sitting down to afternoon tea. I walked into the farm kitchen, sat down and had tea with them as if I had just been down the farmyard having a stroll. I hadn't sent them word that I was in England and it was a great surprise. Great to be home. I had a booze-up on that night and many more. My brother and his wife owned the pub so I was able to have few after time.
I enjoyed my leave. I was recalled to the army, not doing much, just wasting time. I was taught to load and fire a rifle after the war. To me it was still Dad's Army, the British Expeditionary Force. I was discharged at the end of 1945 and started work in 1946 – back to normal.
This story is only a brief outline of what happened to me in five and half years at war. I was on the run for three and a half years. There is much more that could have been put down on paper.
Postscript :
I flew to Warsaw in 1962 and stayed at the Bristol Hotel. I arrived at the hotel at 9am on a Sunday and booked into my room, washed and went to the bar for a few Wodkas. I had always promised myself I would do this. After a while I picked up the telephone book, found my old friend Tosha's, the dentist, phone number. She was still practicing. I dialled the number and she answered, she speaks English but was not sure who it was so put her husband Chester on the phone. After two or three words he asked “Is it George from England?” When I said it was he was very excited and put Tosha back on the phone.
“When can we see you?” she asked. “Now” I answered.
I got a taxi to their flat, they were waiting for me, a great reunion. They had married after the war and have two daughters, Danuta and Christian. Danuta has stayed on holiday with me. We sat and talked and drank until the early hours of the morning. I left and walked back to the hotel.
I saw them every day. Tosha found for me the address of my friend Wictor Lentz, who now lives in a small town 60 miles from Warsaw.
George Newton died on 18th January 1992 aged 75.