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|My grandfather John Hepburn from Gardenstown was called up to the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, he was 19 years old. He trained at Fort George and was billeted at Inverness Castle before heading off to war in the first callup of troups. He didn’t talk much of his experiences but here is what we do know by teasing information out bit by bit. They were sent to hold the Marginal line but eventually had to retreat back to St Valery-en-Caux. My grandfather was in a vineyard and they apparently had a good spot where they were managing to hold back the Germans from coming over a bridge. He said they would just keep on coming until they couldn’t climb over the bodies and then they would wave a white flag, clear their bodies away and then the same would happen again. They were at this position when they received word to surrender, which they received by leaflets being dropped from an aeroplane. They didn’t believe them because it could have been a trick and they had been told to hold that line until the last. Eventually an officer was allowed to come under a white flag to tell them of the surrender. They weren’t happy with the idea of surrender but by this point realised they were completely surrounded.
He was marched to Poland (in bare feet by the end) he was in a few different POW camps, as he escaped and was recaptured twice and they never put him back to the same camp making the prisoners left behind believe they had shot him. The camp he spent most time in was Poznan, Stalag XX1D.
We know that during one of his escape attempts he was going through a French ladies dustbin looking for food, she spotted him took him in and fed him but then gave him up to the Germans. I remember asking him when I was a small child if he wasn’t afraid he would get shot and he told us it was their job to make a nuisance of themselves. He spoke of working in a factory and pretending he was stupid and burning the leather, while making suitcases. He was adamant though he was shot there was no way he was going to make anything for the Germans or help them in anyway.
He spent 5 years as a prisoner of war and the first two years they were treated very poorly, men died like flies there was a cart went round every morning and the dead were put on to it. At this point the Germans thought they were going to win the war and didn’t care about their prisoners, eventually the Red Cross managed to get access to them and things changed and they were treated a bit better.
We believe he escaped again but wouldn’t discuss it as he was home 6 months before the majority of the troops. We think he stowed away in the lifeboat of a boat called Arundul Castle which was taking home troops that were seriously wounded an exchange of prisoners. He had made friends with another private Dan Douglas from Bankfoot and we think a private called Charlie from Turriff. Dan came home but Charlie was killed in action. We count ourselves fortunate to have had our dad and granda return home, even with his invisable scars, thousands didn’t.