View Full Version : POWs - Recollections of a Man of Confidence - WO Richard A. Greene, RCAF

9th February 2022, 13:02
I have lost track of what PRO file this came from but it may interest some:

The following statement is an accurate account of conditions in Stalag Luft 7, Bankau, Germany. Statement is made by W/O Richard A. Greene, (R66340, Royal Canadian Air Force), who acted as British Man of Confidence from June 21, 1944 to December 21, 1944:

Stalag Luft 7 was opened on June 6, 1944, as a Prisoner of War Camp for British and Dominion Air Forces Non-Commissioned Officers.

On June 21, 1944, upon arrival at the camp in company of other N.C.O’s, I found the camp in a state of disorganization due to lack of knowledge of POW camp organization. With previous experience in handling men (Camp 66, Capau, Italy) and Red Cross supplies, I was asked to assume the responsibility of handling the camp’s welfare. I accepted.

The German authorities in charge (with the exception of Major Peschel) who is later mentioned, were void of experience in handling prisoners and were therefore difficult to organize to our way of thinking. The chief fault lay in the fact that we were subjected to a series of mostly childish and petty rules and regulations which were probably extracted from German army bi-laws. Frequent changes in the German administration prevented our obtaining any great cooperation from any one man. At one stage, a Camp rule, as it was called, stated that any prisoner who attempted to escape would be shot. After consultation with the German authorities, they admitted that it was a soldier’s duty to escape if possible, and subsequently altered the rule to read ‘any attempting to escape will be fired upon’.

For the greater part, Red Cross supplies and YMCA material were the chief problems for there was insufficient supply in relation to the expected camp increases.

Contact was established with both Red Cross and YMCA with the continual German alibi… “We have no transport”. However, Red Cross supplies to our camp increased with the demand. Considerable difficulty was experienced with YMCA materials. This, I am certain, was due to the efforts of Major Peschel, the German Security Officer, formerly at Stalag Luft 3. Given complete charge of Stalag Luft 7, Peschel knew what could be done with certain YMCA materials. I am also positive that this Nazi delayed, as long as possible, any and all shipments to our camp. Even the visits of the YMCA representative, Mr. Soderberg, were unable to obtain complete freedom in the use of paints, papers, inks, drawing instruments etc. Repeated demands for those were rejected on the grounds that he had his orders from ‘higher’ authorities. In the first weeks of the camp’s existence, there was no typewriter available for external correspondence. When I finally obtained one from a nearby civilian internee’s camp, I was made to sign a statement that I would not allow the typewriter to be misused (for documents, passports etc.).

Wire, string, cardboard cartons were prohibited for some time. After continual demanding, they became permissible in small quantities. Ink was never officially allowed in camp.

From June till October 15, 1944, we were occupying small wooden huts accommodating 6 men, without electric lights, and with very poor water supply (at one time, one pump served 800 men). During this period, work was being carried out on a new compound of large huts. Early in July, we were asked to supply labour of all sorts for the camp being erected. I flatly refused to allow anyone to volunteer for work. I was informed that, as a result, we would not move into the new camp until winter, if then. It was agreed among us that we didn’t care. In contrast, we did move into the adjacent and new compound on the 13th of October.

Conditions here were quite good considering that the German transport system was being constantly depleted. All of the equipment for the camp had to come from Breslau, some 60 kilometers away. A good cookhouse was provided and there was sufficient water, with occasional hot showers.

Repeated attempts to obtain a barrack for use as a theatre were rejected. No space, no wood, no materials, moving, fire hazard, were some of the excuses given. However, with the opening of the new compound we were allowed to build a theatre in part of the cookhouse. Work was slow because of materials which were carefully checked …. Tools were almost impossible until the cigarettes brought about some marvellous changes. For several months, the guards had been warned that to accept bribes for anything to be brought into camp was strongly forbidden. Temptation won, and several guards were compelled to think it over in jail. Attempts were made by Peschel to change the guards entirely, and a few were sent to the Russian front (always a threat) for accepting bribes.

For months, I had repeatedly asked for a British Medical Officer to be sent to our camp. Letters to all authorities were months in returning. The German authorities merely said that they realized the necessity but that they had no orders from OKW. Yet, there were several available Medical Officers at Stalag 344, Lamsdorf. The Senior Medical Officer of that camp attempted to assist but could do nothing until the authority to effect a change came from OKW.

Peschel was for some time skeptical about allowing a Church of England Padre to be sent to the camp. In instances such as these, I know that Peschel was responsible for deliberately upholding mail.

Outgoing mail at one period was so voluminous that I once had nine letters returned to me in one day, each with some German writing in blue pencil scrawled in the margin. The same day, I wrote a forceful note to the Commandant which got immediate results. I merely stated that according to a certain paragraph in the Convention as a Prisoner of War representative, I was allowed to correspond freely with any of the welfare organizations. My mail was never returned to me thereafter, but I know that it was delayed for censorship. Shortly after I had written a letter to the Protecting Power in which I complained severely of this censorship, the Legation introduced a form 1180 which speeded up correspondence considerably.

This delay, I believe, is a matter which is of considerable importance for the future. From several reliable sources, I knew that outgoing mail of any sort was deliberately delayed from two to eight weeks at the censor. Although contrary to the convention, it is nevertheless effected by a mere statement that ‘the Germans cannot supply so many censors’.

I was told by an attache of the Swiss Legation that repeated attempts on their part to arrive in a surprise visit were tried, but that the Germans had always been able to make everything appear quite in order.

Censorship of incoming parcels of all sorts was rigid; one shipment of electrical equipment for the theatre was never allowed inside the camp, but was brought in piece by piece.

On December 21, 1944, I resigned in favour of W/O Mead, R.A.F., who continued that office until our total evacuation on January 18, 1945.

In late December, one prisoner was shot and instantly killed while running from his barrack during an air-raid alarm. Attempts were made to identify the guard, but were unsuccessful. A full report of the incident was forwarded to the Swiss Legation.

From January 19 to February 8, we were marched a total of 250 kilometers in extreme weather with inadequate food and poor accommodations. A full report of conditions was made by the Medical Officer upon arrival at Stalag IIIA, Luchenwalde. Some results were obtained in this case, when the German Red Cross responded with a small amount of food.

In middle March, conditions again began to decline and continued to do so until the camp was liberated by the Red Army on April 22, 1945.

Respectively submitted,

(agd) R.A. Greene, W/O
Richard A. Greene, W/O
R66340, Royal Canadian Air Force
Bournemouth, England May 29, 1945