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By Alfred Nestor
A true story of a dear friend
A thought to ponder on.
It is said, ‘That everybody has a story to tell’, a point often forgotten when we see an old man, living on his own, in sheltered accommodation, having suffered a stroke, and just pottering around in his home, not always sure where he is.One such man, is my friend ‘Harry’, aged 91, a man of courage, and endurance, so look in wonder, for this is his Story;
They were taken to a Prisoner of War Camp in Germany, outside Regensburg, (possibly Stalag 383 - mk) were they were treated with understanding, and respect, as the Camp was run by ex-WW1 German Army Veterans, and though they were prisoners, were treated well. Harry decided to make the best of his situation, and made an effort to learn German from the friendly German Guards, and was very soon a fluent German speaker, which gave him an advantage in his situation, and very soon was trusted by the Guards, who allowed Harry to carry out work outside the Camp, with only one elderly Guard, who was called Walter.
Walter had been a prisoner himself after WW1, and also lived in Regensburg*, so he fully understood what it felt like to be a prisoner, far away from home, so they became very good friends.
Harry had promised not to try to escape when outside the camp, for if he did, Walter would have been shot, as would his Wife and Family, so Harry did his work, and was allowed to bring into the Prison Camp extra food for his fellow Prisoners, and handed out Red Cross Chocolate to the local German children, which they could not get for themselves, though always in secrecy, as this was against the rules, as indeed was his friendly relationship with the Camp Guards.
Then in 1944, the friendly German Guards were removed, and sent to fight the advancing Russian Army, and the Camp was taken over by the SS.
This changed the situation for the British Prisoners, more so, as a few weeks after the SS took over, Harry overheard a conversation between some SS Officers [who were not aware that Harry understood the language], that they had been given orders to clear the Camp of Prisoners before the Russians arrived, and they would take the British Prisoners out in groups of ten, and into the surrounding Forest, and shoot them.
Harry found himself in a spot, for he knew about this, but what could he do?
So, Harry watched as the SS took the British Soldiers out in ten man groups, and returned alone. He also noticed something that he felt he could use to his advantage, for the Prisoners were taken out only by one SS Officer, and one SS Soldier.
He was not sure how this would help, but it did give an opportunity to escape when it was his turn.
The moment arrived, and Harry joined nine other British Soldiers, and was escorted out the Camp into the dark Forest nearby. The Russians were getting closer, for you could hear the gunfire as they walked to their death.
On entering the Forest, and once out of sight of the Camp, Harry decided to make his move. He turned to the SS Officer who was walking at his side, and said in good German [which surprised the Officer], “Do you hear that gunfire? Well very soon you will also be dead, so why kill us? I know your orders, but don’t you think it would be more sensible for you, and your fellow SS Soldier to try to get home yourselves...why fight on...you know, in your heart, that the War is lost for you? Let us go, and safe yourself”.
The Officer looked shocked. Here was a British Prisoner, speaking good German, and something inside the German SS Officer must have been moved, for he was not a fool, and deep inside, he must have agreed with Harry.
The SS Officer, stopped the column, and spoke to his fellow SS Soldier, who must have agreed, for within minutes, the SS Officer said to Harry, “ I agree, but it’s full of danger for all of us, if we let you go, and you are recaptured, we will be shot ourselves, as will our Families, so we will let you go, but we will fire our guns so back in the Camp they will think we have followed our orders. Please do not get recaptured by our troops...go in the direction of Prague, for that is in Russian hands, and my fellow Soldier will try to get back to our homes”, and Harry and his nine fellow prisoners, were released.
Harry watched as his former Guards, fired their machine guns into the Forest, and they said their goodbyes, and Harry explained what was happening to his friends, [who were not aware of why they were in the Forest], and took his friends on a journey of 90 miles in the direction of Prague, and safety.
They had to live off the land, eating anything they could find, and avoid any German Troops, and after ten days, were in Russian hands, and a kind of safety [ for the Russians were not very friendly either ], but were then handed to some American Troops, and after further adventures, returned to Britain.
So you see, my friends, even an old man, who right now, is ill, and not always sure of where he is, has a Story to tell. His memory of his past is clear however, and though he does not regard himself as a hero, and I had to drag his story out of him, and the fact that I am myself, German born, which allowed him to tell his story in German, [which he still remembers, even though his English is confused due to age, as well as his strokes], made it easier for him to tell it to me.
I am proud to know such a nice, unassuming Gentleman, and regard him as my friend. A true, unsung hero, who was never given any reward for his bravery, or his intelligence, and I am sure that there are nine other men out there, who would agree with me. So, next time you see an old man pottering around on sticks, maybe looking a little confused, don’t laugh at him...after all, he may also has a Story to tell that would make you proud to have such men sharing your world with you. The true British Bulldog spirit lives on in such men, just like my Friend, ‘Harry’Alfred Nestor © 2014
Here are photographs sent to me from the publisher via Alfred's permission
1. Young Alfred, the child who was told stories by Adolph Hitler
3. Alfred with his mum and dad
4. The soldier who brought him to the UK, and a new life
* Regensburg is on the E56 from Nurenberg, south east, to Passau.