Hero’s welcome for Arthur as former PoW makes poignant return to Poland
PUBLISHED: 09:47 04 September 2013 | UPDATED: 09:47 04 September 2013
There is a faded tattoo on Arthur’s arm which he has lived with for more than 70 years. But this is not body art or a reminder of happy days.
This mark was to let those with jackboots and rifles know that this young man from Norfolk was a troublemaker who warranted rough treatment.
He had refused to work as a prisoner of war so the Germans tattooed him as a sign to all the guards. When they saw it they would kick him, hit him with a rifle butt and make him work harder.
Today Arthur Brough is in his 94th year. Now living in sheltered accommodation in Norwich he is a man who can charm the birds off the trees but there was a time when he cheated death by the skin of his teeth.
He survived Dunkirk and the massacre of the Norfolks at Le Paradis to be taken into Poland where he was held in harsh and brutal PoW camps for more than four agonising years.
Now, more than 70 years on, Arthur has returned from a “holiday of a lifetime” to Poland where he visited the places and the camps which have haunted him for more than seven decades. Time has stood still in many of them.
And the locals welcomed him with open arms and generous hospitality. At a sawmill where he hid before making a run for it, workers were queuing up to shake his hand
“It is hard to explain what this meant to me. It was quite extraordinary to follow in my own footsteps. To remember what happened all those years ago and to honour lost comrades,” said Arthur, a former Norwich crane driver.
“The Polish people risked their lives to help us, giving us food and shelter. If they had been caught they would have been shot,” he added.
The trip was planned like a military operation by his companion Brent Greenwood, who has taken Arthur under his wing since meeting up with him at Dunkirk pilgrimages.
“I thought it would be fascinating to discover exactly what happened to Arthur in the war and to find out where he had been taken and held. It took some planning and organising because Arthur only knew the German names of the places in Poland,” said Brent.
“Once I started my research it was interesting to find how little had changed in many places. The prisoners were often held in medieval forts and other places which are still as they were when the Russians liberated them,” said Brent. “Farms, sawmills, railway yards, quarries etc, they were all there as they were left at the end of the war.
“The Polish people were very helpful and made us very welcome as we followed Arthur’s footsteps,” he added.
Arthur was born in 1919 and moved with his family to Great Yarmouth when he was nine years old. He joined the Royal Norfolks’ 2nd Battalion A Company on January 6 1938. After six months of training he spent almost a year at Gibraltar and at the outbreak of war he was among the first to be shipped over to France, where he and his comrades spent most of the time digging trenches.
“Whilst the evacuation of Dunkirk was in full swing we were doing our best to hold back the so-called cardboard tanks, or so the propaganda led us to believe, but we soon found out differently as my pals were getting killed all around me,” said Arthur.
“The tanks thundered closer and closer and there appeared to be hundreds of them. We were running alongside the dykes by the side of the road just like rabbits; a bit degrading for professional soldiers, but then what could we do against tanks? It was like all hell had been let loose,” he said.
Arthur was hit by shrapnel in the leg and a tank was almost on top of him. He turned out to be one of the lucky ones. Many of his comrades were dead, while others had been taken off to La Paradis and massacred.
He was among those shoved into cattle wagons and taken to camps in Poland where Arthur would spend the rest of the war, surviving against all the odds, escaping and being captured, before finally being liberated in June of 1945.
When he finally got back to Norfolk he found his family living in Norwich, having been bombed out of their home in Yarmouth, and was told the news that his brother Sonny had lost his life in France.
“I took this very badly. I was devastated and could not get over the shock for quite some time,” said Arthur.
Arthur returns to France each year and has been doing so for 30 years, the last 10 years his friend Brent Greenwood from Cambridge has accompanied him.
He pays his respects at the site of the massacre and stays in the village of Locon where he was captured, as well as putting wreaths on the memorials and graves.
Arthur also puts flowers on the spot where he buried the ashes of his dear wife Vera in the British Cemetery and visits Dunkirk Cemetery where his brother Joseph (Sonny) Brough is buried. Sonny served in the Royal Artillery and received a direct hit on the beaches.
• MARCH OF TERROR: ARTHUR REMEMBERS WARTIME ORDEAL
When the Russians and Americans started pushing the Germans out of Poland they moved everybody out of the PoW camps and concentration camps and forced them to march back into the Germany.
Arthur walked for three months through Poland from the December to March during a bitterly cold winter with just rags to wear. He had pieces of wood to walk on.
They slept at night wherever they stopped and went to sleep in the snow.
Arthur said he often woke in the morning to find that the man next to him had died in the night.
Frozen stiff, they were so hungry that is they saw any crops in the field they would try to get to eat them raw but the German soldiers would take shots at them... and laugh.
Arthur weighed just a few stone and was skin and bones when finally liberated.
He had survived.
“I shall never forget my experience being a PoW, the degradation, the humiliation, the lice and the horror I felt when I was handcuffed and chained,” said Arthur.
“The long and enforced march with the added misery of dysentery and the friends who died because of a lack of sufficient food, warm clothing and medical requirements. I think ‘But for the grace of God.’
“When I hear of the lavish treatment the German and Italian PoWs received in the UK I am in no way put out but I just wondered, why they were accorded every rule in the Geneva Convention and received the very best medical and hospital treatment, whilst we had nothing except our black bread, potato soup, ersatz coffee and a rifle butt in the back and ribs if we dared to protest in any way?”
A portrait of Arthur by renowned Norfolk artist Liz Balkwill recently took centre stage at the highly regarded Armed Forces Art Society’s annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.
• His story is told in a book My Wasted Years, 1940-1945, by Arthur Brough which is on sale in Jarrolds.
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