Jack was taken P.O.W. on February 27, 1945 at the Hochwald
Jack's story of his POW experience, as written by Jack
The following sequence of events ended with the capture of two complete crews of the South Alberta Regiment during a military engagement involved in the capture of the Hochwald Forest, Germany.
The names of the crews are as follows:
Art Baker -Driver , Jack Gardiner - Driver Albert Boyer- Driver, Hammy Hamilton - Driver
Joe Arkles Gunner Ed Thorne - Gunner
Fred Funnell Loader/Wireless Operator Maxie Gilbert Loader/Wireless Operator
Joe McGivern Crew Commander Lt. Bob Crawford Crew Commander
Prior to that fateful day of February 27, 1945 the Regiment received orders to join up with some infantry units and seize the ridge from Calcar in the north to Udem in the south. Beyond the Calcar-Udem ridge lay a wide valley with hills and forest. This area was called the Hochwald Forest. To get to this area the Regiment and Infantry units would have to cross boggy flooded terrain and fight their way through successive German heavy defenses in a night-time operation.
Sitting in our tanks we heard all the reports of the ensuing battle over our wireless set. There would be an unbelievable artillery barrage to commence the operation. The night would light up like day and we would be ordered to advance. During the night of February 26/45 the tanks were having trouble maneuvering into positions with the soggy terrain and tank traps.
A group of tanks from A Squadron were assigned the task of skirting around the town of Udem in a right hook movement and establish a defense line on the other side of the town. Unknown to our troop of tanks the town of Udem was ringed with tank ditches. Forced to skirt around these obstacles our tanks were caught one behind the other with deep ditches on either side. As this was a heavily defended area the troop received a heavy loss of armored vehicles and casualties.
Our tank was hit and the crew bailed out. We escaped to a nearby farm house. Attempting to enter the basement we noticed there were German troops present. We stayed in the hallway moving from one room to the other. The farm house came under fire with one shell entering one of the rooms. The interior of the house was damaged resulting in our crew covered with plaster dust. Small arms fire was hitting the house and we noticed at the back of the farm house some animals were bleating in terror. Shortly after there was silence in the barn and not long after the farm house was surrounded and German paratroopers took us prisoner.
The other crew was knocked out of their vehicles and managed to managed to enter one of the tank ditches surrounding the area. As they attempted to escape they were surrounded by German paratroopers and taken prisoner.
Both crews were taken hurriedly into the ditches and became part of the retreating Germans from the area. We continued to journey away from the battle area under German escort. After some time we arrived at a German headquarters.
As we gathered there a German soldier approached me and I was ordered to go with him for interrogation. Starting to go I noticed Lt. Bob Crawford pull his "dog-tags" out of his uniform, I immediately understood to give the German officials only my Regimental number and name. Directed to a room where a German officer was seated at a table. I was instructed to sit down and look at a map in front of me. In perfect English he asked where the armored unit was heading at the time of the capture. I told him as a driver the crew take their order from Headquarter's tanks, that information was not relayed to the troop at the time. Fortunately they bought that comment and transferred me back to the group later on in the day. On my return I assured Lt. Crawford no information was relayed to them.
Our group was again escorted to a German town on the Rhine for transportation to a prisoner of war camp. After marching for some time we approached the small German town and noticed the town had experienced a devastating attack by Allied Aircraft Typoons. These are cannon bearing aircraft with deadly fire power. Pile of rubble were everywhere. People were moving around slowly with carts placing the body remains join them. The smell of burning flesh and death in the building rubble was extreme.
When the town people saw us marching through their town they came at us to do us in. The guards fearing the worst ordered them back and hurriedly removed us from the area. The guards took us to a nearby railway station and as we gathered there we noticed the German people were harassing Lt. Crawford and the guards. Art Baker could understand the German language and quietly informed us that the crowd wanted to hang us all at the station. The guards managed to remove the irate Germans from the area and we eventually arrived at our destination for transport by rail to a prisoner-of-war internment camp inside Germany.
We joined numerous other Allied soldiers to be transported into Germany. We were given individual food rations and placed in box cars. German box cars are only half the size of a Canadian box car and we ended up standing room only. We traveled for some time and then we came to an abrupt halt. Curious as to why we stopped and noticed the train crew abandoned the train. Shortly after we heard the sound of an aircraft. Fortunately the aircraft was German and the crew returned to the train and proceeded along the way. Needless to say the crews intent was to leave us to our fate.
Arriving at the prisoner of war camp we disembarked under the watchful eyes of the German guards and their guard dogs.
Prisoners formed up and we were marched down a roadway to the entrance of the prisoner of war camp. The name of this camp was Stalag 11B, near the small town of Fallingbostel Germany. The camp was strategically located in a heavily wooded area.
Once inside the camp we were documented, finger printed and issued a wooden tag with a prison number on it. This was your prison dog-tag and we were warned never to remove it from around our necks. Failure to do so would be dealt with severe punishment.
The next few days became I became familiar with the daily routine of the camp.
As the war was nearing an end the camp routine changed abruptly from the previous existence of camp life. Red Cross parcels issued to prisoners before were now cancelled, Red Cross officials were not allowed in the camp to monitor living conditions. Daily food rations were cut drastically.
At 0600 hours inmates were lined up outside the wooden huts for roll call and inspection. This was done under the strict supervision of the guards and their dogs.
Paraded back into the huts and issued toiletries (soap & shaving gear). Guards made sure all of these items returned to them as shaving blades could be used as a weapon in the camp.
Daily food rations would be issued consisting of German brown bread, Soya bean coffee, cube of sugar.
The rest of the day you were assigned to a work force. As we were in good shape we found ourselves in the German forest stacking and cutting cord wood. Another specialty was the removal of rotten stumps in the forest. This practice was achieved by placing a chain around the girth of a rotten stump and extending the chain out in front of the stump. Leather halters were attached to the chains and inmates were placed in the halters to engage in pulling the stumps out of the ground.
Rations received while you worked in the forest consisted of meat (horsemeat), potato, barley soup, bread, cube sugar and Soya coffee.
After a few weeks in the camp you noticed your physical strength deteriorate to the point you are assigned to a lesser job in the camp.
Food rations changed with turnip soup, bread, cube sugar and Soya coffee.
Unknown to us at the time there was a process in the camp where over a period of time an inmate would physically lose his strength through a form of malnutrition. In doing so if the camp had to be deserted by the camp authorities the prisoners left behind would be in no shape to join the advancing allied army.
Our group had a routine where we would pool our German bread allotment and place the bread in a large tin with water to boil into a form of gruel. To do this we had to light a small fire and boil the gruel into a mush substance.
This particular day our group was playing cards and asked me to take a piece of wood and with a small pen knife prepare some kindling for the fire. While in the process I neglected to notice the camp guard in the hut. He noticed me and screaming advanced towards me. He pushed me abruptly against the wooden bunks and I immediately made forward motion towards him. Cpl. McGiven noticing what was happening hollered FREEZE which I did. The guard by this time was in the process of removing his weapon to use extreme force.
A confrontation between Cpl. McGiven and the guard over the problem ensued. As this piece of wood had no bearing on the initial complaint being that of the removal of wood from the wooden bunks for firewood it was resolved.
Resulting from this the inmates would never be allowed open fires in the huts so our daily ration of prepared gruel was over.
During the first part of May 1945 the camp experienced the sound of artillery rumble and we knew it was only a matte of time. Liberation was imminent. Word around the camp was that the British 8th Army was nearing the camp. Twenty-four hours before liberation the main body of guards and officials left the camp heading for Hanover, leaving in there place the German Home Guard (elder soldiers). They provided an interim policing before liberation.
As we were walking around the compound the next day I recalled a familiar sound entering the camp. A British tank had burst through the camp entrance marking the official liberation of the camp.
Prisoners from the different compounds broke out of camp and ventured across the country side, ravaging the town of Fallingbostel and the surrounding farm buildings.
Our group took it upon ourselves to venture out of camp in search of food.
Leaving the camp we noticed a farm house in the distance. Approaching we split up into two groups, approaching the farm house from the rear and the front.
Opening the barn door we noticed in the hay loft children hiding. Fear registered in their eyes as we passed by them and proceeded down the stalls to the back entrance of the house. We were half way along the stalls when there was a ruffle-turning we noticed a young girl attempting to hide. We motioned to her to go to the back door. She was terrified but quickly went to the back entrance. The farmer noticed what was happening and attempted to protect the girl. By this time the other group had entered the front of the house and ordered the farmer back into the house.
Once the family was gathered in the house they produced food such as eggs, milk and bread. We had the farmer taste the milk and once satisfied decided to return to the camp with our food.
The adventure outside the camp for the inmates was short lived as the rest of the 8th Army advanced to the camp and now order prevailed.
Prisoners were rounded up and returned to the camp and the process of liberation of the soldiers commenced.
Within a few days the camp was experiencing a form of Typhus disease due to the unsanitary conditions of the camp. Subsequently camp inmates were hurriedly evacuated.
Our group was taken by vehicle to an airfield in Germany and loaded on a Lancaster bomber bound for England.
I can recall the day as we approached the aircraft we noticed the crew spoke English but the Captain (pilot) had a Canadian accent. The pilot wanted to know if any of us were Canadians. Albert and I mentioned our home town was Winnipeg. Much to our surprise before the war the pilot had resided in Winnipeg. Sometime after the war I managed to get in touch with the pilot in Winnipeg and enjoyed a reminiscent visit.
Upon landing in England we were transported to a #4 Repatriation Camp located in Milford England and hospitalized for a period of time as we were being treated for malnutrition.
Information was dispatched back home to Canada informing our families that we had been liberated from the camp and were now safe and sound in England. What followed later was the welcoming trip home and the reuniting with our families. Our war was definitely over as we were anxious to renew our status as civilians in Canada.
|Albert Boyer||Hammy Hamilton|
|Edward "Guy" Olmstead||Art Baker||Joe McGivern||Fred Funnell||George Gallimore||Hugh Christian|
* If you were a SAR prisoner of war or know of a member of your family who was a POW and if you are interested in telling your story please contact me through the website e-mail address
Click here for the story of "The Little Brown Hen at Stalag 11-B"