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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

World War II

105. James Muckart, Prisoner of War, 1940

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1Letter from James Muckart, Prisoner of War, 1940, The Scots at War Trust, [​veteransreminiscences], accessed 10 February 2009.

Our first day as a POW was anything but a pleasure. It is hard to estimate the number of prisoners that were taken at St Valery and on the march to Germany. A guess would be between seven and eight thousand. The weather in June was very warm, and many POWs passed out. Considering what these men had gone through prior to capture it was understandable. Lack of sleep, bombing and strafing by the German Air Force, had brought many to their knees.

On the first day, at the end of the march we were parked in a field. Soup (beans and water and rye bread) if you did not have a container you were out of luck. Tired and dirty, next day the march continued as the Armistice was signed with Germany. Also, Italy had joined up with Hitler. Little did we know that the march would take at least 20 days.

On the morning of either the third or fourth day I met my brother Andy, who had been attached to the 51st Anti-tank unit. In civilian life he was apprenticed to the Bank of Scotland, a white collared position, if I remember rightly he was never known to dirty his hands. He really was in a bad way, food was at a premium. When passing a small town I would slip out of the column and rush into a baker shop and lift a loaf of bread. A guard would chase me but I managed to evade him… Drinking water was also at a premium. On the march the French farmers put cans of milk by the roadside, but they might as well have left it on the farm. Many days on the march we had to depend on the water in the ditches by the roadside. The routine got very monotonous—not enough food—leeping in fields—etting up in the morning, clothes saturated from the dew. From France to Belgium and then into Holland. The inhabitants of these countries did their best to pass food on to us. For their kindness quite a few of them suffered at the hands of the guards. In Holland, loaded onto coal barges and taken direct to Emmerick where we spent the night in a sports place in pouring rain. However, worse was to come.

We moved to the railway station and were packed into cattle wagons, fifty to a wagon. Doors were locked and we were on our way. No clue as to our final destination. We could lie down, but were packed like sardines in a can. The only ventilation was a small window. The toilet facilities provided was a big galvanised pail. Many of the boys plus my brother had dysentery and could not make it in time—you know the rest.

After many hours (with the Germans stripping us of our watches we had no idea of time) we would pull into a railway siding—doors opened—first job to get the toilet pail emptied. Loaves of rye bread and an urn of ersatz coffee were handed in—doors closed tight and once again we were on our way. The treatment and the conditions we travelled under would be very hard to translate into English. By the time we arrived at our final destination we stank so bad that even the guards kept their distance. My only problem was that I was so lousy that my body was covered with blotches. It was unreal. However at the first camp we were deloused, our heads were shaved, we were fingerprinted, photographed and lastly given a disc with your POW number on it.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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