"a little marmite".... by quietpurplehaze

"a little marmite"....

....and a famous general....... and photo opportunities for the enemy

On this day, 21st June, in 1942, my dad was captured at Tobruk.

His description of it in his diaries gives it, to me at least, quite a low-key feel:

"We established ourselves at Gazala very well: we all had elaborate bivouacs and were fairly comfortable. All this time we were not totally inactive although it was very quiet. We used to go out with 2 guns to a forward sniping position and engage anything we saw. Towards the end of May ’42, we heard of an expected attack by the enemy. This arrived on Tues 26-5-42 at 3 p.m.

We saw plenty of activity and were on the move quite a bit. Towards mid-June, we were slowly forced into Tobruk. I was a signaller in the artillery.

On Sat 20-6-42 the battle for Tobruk started in earnest. The enemy increased his bombardments and as the day wore on, it became evident as to what the outcome would be. The fall of Tobruk came the following day Sun 21-6-42. Our losses were very heavy and it was there I became a prisoner of war along with 30,000 or so men.

I had not even thought of myself becoming a prisoner of war and when I realised this, it was quite a surprise to find I was in reality a PoW. I lost several photos and my diary, but managed to retain my overcoat, one blanket and my haversack containing washing kit and dixie. Now I was a PoW, I thought all my worries were over and everything would be O.K., but I was greatly disillusioned during the following months.

One exciting moment: as we were slowly moving out of Tobruk along the road, a German staff car went by in which sat General Rommel. I managed to obtain quite a good view of him and felt very thrilled to think I had seen the man who had achieved such great successes.

After seeing the truck bearing a white flag go out to surrender Tobruk to the Germans, we stood about and waited for further orders. A few minutes later we saw the truck return followed by a German staff car in which were seated two German officers. As soon as the Germans had convinced themselves all was in order, they proceeded out of Tobruk and I noticed one of them fired a very light pistol into the air several times. I assumed this to be a signal to the German forces to enter Tobruk as some time later I saw Mark IV tanks rumbling up.

We started to march out and going along the road I saw an endless column of prisoners. We passed tanks along the road and on each one were perched young Germans who had cameras and were using them taking snaps of us - the photos would provide good propaganda no doubt.

We managed to obtain some drinking water on arrival at a water point and here we rested. There were hundreds of men here all clamouring for water as the day was terribly hot. The Germans allowed us to bathe in the sea and I had a glorious swim.

By that time I was quite hungry not having had any food during the day. Some of our lads went up to the bakery in order to get whatever bread was left and they came back with two loaves. When this was shared out we had half a slice each and someone had a little marmite which made the bread a bit tastier.

The day was now nearing its close and we decided to prepare for sleep. I had my overcoat and one blanket, whilst the chap who was with me now (Jack MacGregor) had only his overcoat. I spread my blanket on the ground and we got down to it pulling our overcoats over us.

We endeavoured to get some sleep. We had marched several miles that day and were quite tired. We had, however, only been laid down for a few minutes when we heard a loud voice informing us that we were to move to an improvised camp about 4 or 5 kilometres away. I felt pretty fed up on hearing this but being a PoW I realized I had no other option but to comply with orders.

Eventually we got on the move and before long I was perspiring more than ever before in my life. During the day I had been drinking a lot of water and now I had to pay for it. Before long, I was really streaming and my clothes were saturated. The kit I was carrying seemed to increase.

Our own officers were still with us and were getting their own respective men together. The idea was to institute some form of organisation so as to enable us to obtain rations. I was very hungry as I had eaten only the half slice of bread. Having sorted ourselves into batteries, troops, etc., our officers eventually secured some food. We had a tin of English “bully” (12ozs) to share between 4 men, and 3 or 4 small biscuits. This was better than nothing and was greatly appreciated by all. The water situation was bad although the Germans were bringing barrel after barrel of it from the water point. Men were going frantic to obtain a drop and as soon as a lorry dumped a barrel, the men simply rushed forward and organisation disappeared.

After this had been going on for some time, a chap whom I knew well (Frank Stewart) and I decided to venture further afield in an endeavour to obtain water. There were some lorries parked just about 100 yards outside the wire and some Germans standing by them. The wire enclosing us was only knee high with a few sentries patrolling outside. The Germans did not seem to concern themselves very much about our movements and so we stepped over the wire and made for the lorries under cover of some whirling sand made by the wind. Nobody accosted us and we made out way over to the lorries.

We made for a 15cwt Morris where a young German soldier was standing. We extended our water-bottles to him and asked, “Wasser?” He was very polite and his attitude towards us was far from hostile. He gave us plenty of water and after thanking him we made for 3 or 4 Germans a few yards away. When we approached them, one stepped forward and in perfect English asked, ‘What do you want?’ After informing him of our hunger, he gave us a small tin of fish. We continued to wander between the lorries and the Germans did not appear to pay much attention to us.

We came upon a very young German who was seated in a 15cwt British truck and I saw he was busy turning out a British soldier’s pack which he evidently had captured. We tried to open up conversation but differences in languages limited both sides. By various means we made him understand we were hungry and he gave us a tin of English bully, some Egyptian chocolate and a German cigarette each.

He made us understand he was only 21 years old and I believe he said something about coming from the Russian front. After a while he made signs to us that we had better go as there was a German officer approaching. On our way back, we picked up pieces of wood which would serve to make a fire for a brew.

from the PoW diaries of my dad Bert Martin
(a signaller in 67th Med Regt., Royal Artillery)

©IWM 5193
©SWWEC
Amazing story. And Im sure the Marmite gave them extra energy, thankyou for sharing this
June 21st, 2016  
I read the whole text. Your father seems remarkably blasé about these event, which is not how we have learnt to think about them. I can just hear the Tommies saying ' Quick, let's eat the Marmite before the Germans steal it'. Probably not something to worry about.
June 21st, 2016  
@laroque

Yes, that's what I meant by 'low-key'. If I could imagine being captured in battle it would be more eventful/worrying than this. My dad was a very easy-going person!
June 21st, 2016  
very interesting
June 21st, 2016  
It's so amazing! His attitude to being a POW was such a credit to him and surely helped in his survival. Thanks for sharing :)
June 21st, 2016  
Bep
Amazing story.
June 21st, 2016  
incredible story. and i love marmite!
June 21st, 2016  
What an amazing story.
June 21st, 2016  
Marmite, you either like it or not. Interesting capture and I will have to come back to today's story.
June 21st, 2016  
Fantastic story. Great that you chose the jar for your capture today
June 21st, 2016  
@cmp

Catherine, thanks, took me a little while to come up with it! I guess it has always been the same packaging?!!
June 21st, 2016  
Fascinating account so very well recalled and documented would make a wonderful book Hazel:)
June 21st, 2016  
What a fascinating story - thank you for sharing
June 21st, 2016  
Well documented account your Dad brings it alive with the storys and great details . I don't like Marmite.
June 21st, 2016  
Another fabulous and informative edition of your Dad's diaries.
June 22nd, 2016  
Very interesting commentary
June 22nd, 2016  
Cool picture.
June 23rd, 2016  
Another amazing excerpt from your dad's memoirs. Thanks for sharing.
June 24th, 2016  
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