Gunner Daniel Stevens
June 1940 - May 1944
This journal was kindly provided by Tim Lazenby and is the account written by his grandfather, Gunner Daniel Stevens 788254. It describes the retreat to St Valery and surrender of British troops on 12th June 1940 and the movement of the prisoners of war from St Valery to Thorm in Poland.
The account has the addresses of a number of other POW’s (one of whom died in captivity) not recorded here. The abbreviations and punctuation have been left as it was written.
The Account begins:
THE JOURNAL OF GUNNER DANIEL STEVENS 788254
“Daniel Stevens 15990 P.O.W Germany 1940-1942
Dan Stevens, Denmere, Liswerry Road, Newport, Monmouthshire
Rank Specialist 89/90 Field Battalion Royal Artillery, 23rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Recalled to the Colours August 15, 1939 – France October 1, 1939.
First leave April 5th 1940 (15th)
L-A.A.L.A Serv OPac GPOAC
First joined army November 14th, 1928 – 5th Light Brigade, 1st Light Brigade, 4th Medium Brigade and 89/90 Field Battalion, 23rd Field Regiment Rank Specialist
"It has been my intention since I left my Darling Wife and Son on April 15th or 14th rather (A Black Sunday that) to keep a diary but I was unable to procure one until now so having nothing better to do I propose to set down a few of my experiences not that this diary will benefit any one but will help to pass a few moments away during these trying days on the prison camp, dates and places are rather obscure now so my effort will be sketchy and brief.
Well after leaving England on the morning of the 15th April I arrived at Boulogne sometime during the afternoon. Three days later I’ve joined my unit at Merville by Amentieres. Four days later again (April?) 21st we the 51st Division left for the Maginot with a French Cavalry Division under Weygand taking up a position in Lorraine just south of Luxemburg seven kilometres in front of the Maginot.
Here we engaged the enemy (I being O.P.AC at the time) about the 27th April the battle raged incessantly day and night here I found the mistake of under estimating “Jerry” is Arty (Artillery) was very good and the Siegfried was going to be a tough nut to crack. Still the Maginot was impregnable so I had no fear that we should get the worst of this skirmish. Well May the 10th came with Jerrys advance through Holland and Belgium.
This although expected was something different so moving our front north of Verdun we again held the enemy on the right flank of the French 7th Army. They after a few days of heavy fighting were forced to retire leaving us in rather a precarious position anyway. May the 24th the channel ports had been taken what a shock that was, the French had let us down very badly no doubt about that further our Airforce had entirely disappeared leaving us at the mercy of the German bombers how were we to get back now, still, fighting a rear guard action we retired across France south of the Bresle. Jerry, moving south had reached the Somme it was now or never it seemed obvious to me that they must be held on the Somme of (or?) France was lost. Scraping together all available men Base details (21 thousand) and soforth we helped fill our depleted ranks and with half of the 101st Armoured Div we advanced into action along the Somme South of Abbeville. Here the most terrific battle followed we opened up with a 36 hour barrage crossed the Somme and retook Abbeville.
Our success was short lived, no reinforcements, no air support and Jerry slamming in fresh Div’s outnumbered by many, many thousands we were forced back. I cannot speak too highly of the Gordons and the Black Watch, Seaforths and Argylls whom we fought with and supported in these terrific engagements. They certainly made history these days the French by now had packed in completely broken and retiring in disorder they definitely were a nuisance. We retiring and still fighting for the second time a rear guard action day and night inflicting heavy damage on the enemy.
We were drawing nearer to the coast rumour has it that our Division Commander was ordered to make for Le Havre and get out but this in his opinion was un-English and decided to fight on anyway. The enemy had now taken Paris and proceeding along the Seine through Rouen had reached Le Havre. We now had them behind us St Valery being the only port left, we at this time were fighting around Beauvois also at this time a Naval Command was attached to the Division. The navy were coming into St Valery to help us and save what men they could. Hope soared once again, although we knew some men must be left behind. Reaching St Valery on the night of June the 10th we or what was left of this Famous Division some 6 thousand formed a ring around the town the last stand. It never occurred to me that I should be taken prisoner. I had or at least I thought I might get killed. I had been extraordinary lucky up till now well our last stand was a gallant affair but on the advice of the Int Red Cross and order from England – (after scrapping our guns and fighting side by side with the Inf) that Comm surrendered. This was the biggest blow of all my mind was a riot better fight on I thought although I knew we must eventually be wiped out. We were in the forward position W of the town when cease fire went later the Div Comm General Fortune (?) came and spoke to us. I felt like knocking him down. Why the hell didn’t he get out sooner, him and his Knight Errantry wasn’t going to help us now my dear wife and son had been foremost in my mind since I went into action. I cannot describe my feelings now, anyway I was now a prisoner much against my will and the worst experience of my life was yet to come – I have left out the hundreds of little incidents that happened during these weeks a few exciting trips into the enemy country (a day was twenty four hours excitement then) because my untrained mind could not do justice or at least record them well enough – still this is the first chapter and I shall write more later. I intend to try and write any thoughts and dreams of my dear ones at home who are my whole life.
Now my only logic thoughts are of my son and wife with whom I long day and night to be reunited with once again. I always thought I was so hard boiled. The very thoughts of how shall I put it when sentimental thoughts come in my head it nauseated me made me blush. I could not even bring myself to get ‘mushy’ with my wife but o how many times since I have been a prisoner have I wished to be again with her whom I love more than anything in the world – perhaps I am getting ‘mushy’ or realizing my true feelings for the first time, anyway I must put these bursts of thoughts away until I finish my “Tale of the War” but I don’t seem to be able to start the tale of that terrible 21 day march through France, Belgium and Holland. Those three days on the barge could the Black Hole of Calcutta been any worse or the three days in the cattle trucks across Germany to Poland!
Easter 1942 I have just wrote a card to my sweet wife. What an empty and utterly miserable weekend this has been – memories of two years ago fill my mind this holiday - when I spent ten days leave with my loved ones – and to add to this we received no Red Cross parcels for weeks and no ‘smokes’ which makes life unbearable. Still the day will come when all this misery will become just a memory like that terrific march through France, Belgium and Holland – it is this hunger that we are again experiencing now that brings it back to my mind so I’ll carry on with my little story.
Well after unharnessing and destroying everything of any value we march out to meet the enemy K div – SS under Rommel who after giving us an hour or so to destroy our letters and pamphlets (they knew more about us than we did) we set off on the march about 40 kilos arriving dead beat and very hungry we hadn’t had a decent meal for days, anyhow still we just sank down and slept. The nights were pretty cold although the days were very hot this sort of thing carried on for some nine days long marches no food little water except what we could forage dogs, cats and the most horrible filth was eaten by the men. On this march we passed col (column) on col of German transport – coming in to man the coast would they invade the Old Country still we had no fear England wasn’t France we had gone under but that wasn’t England. I’ve often thought perhaps the people at home thought we put up a poor show on the face of it we did but actually we done exceedingly well holding far superior force with so much sabotage around us as long as we did. Well I may as well put down the names of the towns we passed through on this never to be forgotten march from St Valery on 12th June.
|Fontaine Le Dun||13th|
|Zyder Zee||1, 2, 3 July|