Mendel Thrasher's Prisoner of War tags from Stalag VII A.Mendel Thrasher
Portrait of Mendel Thrasher in uniform.Mendel Thrasher
Telegram received by Mendel Thrasher's parents reporting him missing in action and believed to be prisoner of war, December 1944.Mendel Thrasher
Postcard sent home by Mendel Thrasher from Prisoner of War Camp by Prisoners Post, informing his parents that he was indeed taken prisoner by the Germans and that he is well. Dated from January 13, 1945.Mendel Thrasher
Pictured here in the Halifax Daily Star are Canadian veterans coming off the RMS Scythia, the ship on which Mendel Thrasher returned home after four years of war, January 6, 1946.Halifax Daily Star
"And you hear the same music that we play here, it was awful to imagine fighting with one another civilized people. But that’s the way it was."
When we landed in Naples, here Mount Vesuvius is belching smoke right across the bay. We could see that. So it was quite a thing. You know, we marched in just like going on a road march and the Germans let us come right in. And they didn’t fire a shot until we come in and then boy, everything happened. They just laced us with everything they had, mortar bombs and everything.
And where I was, there was a river, I went to the left and here, me and this other young lad, private, and I had a two-inch mortar with me and my rifle and grenade. We got everything, had everything when we were going into battle.
We were kind of defeated on that. We had to give the order I think to retreat. I didn’t get out there until in the evening, I had to … My lad was with me, he was wounded and hit in the stomach and my webbing was cut and my right shoulder was nicked. But we could back out anyways, back to our lines when they give the order to come, to get back.Major Ogilvie was, he was the company commander, he was waiting and he was looking at us coming back and welcoming you back. He was a major from Montréal, he was with the Cape Breton Highlanders.
I was taken on a listing post on the canal bank, an observation post, dug into the canal bank and I was up near the top of it. And I had to be careful moving around there because they could see me, the Germans could see me. They were on the other side of the canal bank and you were target for them if you didn’t move careful there, and don’t be caught with sleeping there, I tell you.
When I was taken prisoner, there was a big German Spandau [Nazi machine gun] on the other side when I had a look over the bank to see what was going on with the Germans on the other side, you know, there was a machine gun right in front of me, I could have almost grabbed the barrel of it. And a great big belt of ammunition waiting to go through and two fellows behind the gun, the guy on the machine gun. And my fellow that was with me was a corporal and I had two hand grenades and I took the hand grenades, my hand grenade, and I pulled the pin on it and let it sizzle in my hand for just a second or two and then I dropped it over and blew them off the bank. Because they were going to, if I moved, if I come out of that, left my gun up there, they would have killed me anyway. So that’s what I did. And I got him to do the same with his hand grenade. I said, so they won’t be able to roll it out of the way or when it goes, it’s going to explode right away.
They saw where it took place and they come up the bank and roused us out of there. Got us out of there, took us prisoner. There was three or four of them. All guns pointed at us and the safety off too, they would have shot if we would have moved one bit over the other, so roused, that’s what they said, rouse, rouse [aus, aus]. That means, out, out, in German.
I was taken, after we were interrogated by the Germans, interrogated, it was Christmas Eve and here there was Christmas carols, he was listening to a radio, the fellow that did the interrogating and there was Christmas carols coming over the radio there, I could hear that when he was asking all these questions. And you hear the same music that we play here, it was awful to imagine fighting with one another civilized people. But that’s the way it was.
They moved us from the northern part of Italy and they loaded us into boxcars. Like all the prisoners that they had not only from us, from other place, and they moved us through the Brenner Pass [a passage in the Alps between Italy and Austria] and we went and they took us out to Germany. And I’ll never forget that, when we were going through a tunnel, and here the Americans spotted us, the Germans taking the oil tankers back on the freight. They hooked them up behind our cars with the Red Cross on the top to show them as prisoners. And they hooked on these oil tankers trying to sneak them in back into Germany because they were desperate for oil for their front, for their men, the machines at the front too.
Just as we were going through a tunnel here, the Americans, American B25 aircraft spotted us going towing these oil tankers back, he didn’t know, I don’t think he knew there was prisoners here and he cut the track just as we were entering the tunnel, cut the track in front, blew it hang and blew it behind us. And we were in the tunnel seven days and seven nights. They’d open the door and give you a Dixie cup of water a day and a little piece of cheese or something like that. There was no sandwiches or anything and I tell you, and there was an old box in the … There was Americans in, a couple Americans there, we were all mixed prisoners. Prisoners from India. So we were all, we were 8th Army, really. We were fighting under the 8th Army.
Well, once they repaired the track, then we moved on to Germany and then we, that’s where we were in Stalag VIIA, taken to a little place they called, I think it was Ettrigen, E-T-T-R-I-G-E-N, Ettrigen and they were interned in the prison camp. And it was terrible, terrible conditions. There was no food in Germany, they weren’t sharing anything with us either, not too much. And the Red Cross parcels, any that come in, you’d be sharing it amongst, from six one time, six people on one Red Cross parcel. That’s supposed for one man. And then they started sharing it with four, they got a few more Red Cross parcels and that’s the way it went. But we never, never overate, never had anything. And we’d have to be taken out to Munich to clean up rubble after our lads bombed it from the air, like bombed, you know, the Germans.
And you see them poor lads up there too, some of the planes hit, you know, what they called ack-ack [anti-aircraft weapons, from World War I signaling language for AA], flyer. And you’d see them bailing out, some of the lads there. Tried to make it back to our side but gosh, terrible what you see the things that take place through the war.