Veteran Stories:
Jerry O'Connor

Army

  • List of all POW's taking Exams and the Results, June 30, 1945.

    J. O'Connor
  • List of all POW's taking Exams and the Results, June 30, 1945.

    J. O'Connor
  • List of all POW's taking exams and the results, June 30, 1945.

    J. O'Connor
  • List of all POW's taking exams and the results, June 30, 1945.

    Jerry O'Connor
  • Exam Certificate of J. O'Connor from the University of Oxford, June 1st, 1945.

    J. O'Connor
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"He just said, in a phrase, which became a standard phrase, “For you, the war is over.” That was the, they all knew how to say that."

Transcript

I’m not a military type person, to be honest with you. So I wasn’t overjoyed in going to the army. But anyway, I went and in short order, I was given the job of teaching people how to fire a Bren gun, an automatic weapon which had just come into use in the British Army. And I did that because in civilian life I was a teacher, so it was thought that I would be able to communicate to people.

But I got into trouble with the senior personnel, A, because I always forgot to wear my cap when I was doing my talks or demonstrations and that annoyed the sergeant major considerably. The other thing was, he ran a weekly bingo and I must confess, bingo does not do anything for me, so I never went to his bingo. And so eventually, he hauled me up one day and lectured me about insubordination, which surprised me. To my surprise, the next morning, somebody came up to me and said, “Oh, I see you’re posted for overseas.” He obviously changed his mind about me to the worse, and the following day, I was on a train with 500 other people. We went down to Southampton and boarded a ship and it was then we were told that we were on our way to France.

I got posted away to a small village where there was a detachment. And largely I think because nobody in the detachment spoke French and I could communicate reasonably well with the French authorities. So after about three months in this small village called Sigy, I returned to Vignacourt shortly before the Germans invaded Holland and Belgium.

The Dutch and the Belgians put up a good resistance, but they were overwhelmed by the mere size of the German forces who were attacking. And in both cases, I think within 48 hours, both countries had capitulated. This is now April or May 1940. Fighting went on for I would say for somewheres around ten days, two weeks, but eventually, the commander of the British forces was authorized by Whitehall in England to gradually withdraw to the sea with a view to evacuating his forces. And that was the operation that started the evacuation, if you like, towards Dunkirk.

So on this particular day, we were assembled and got into our trucks and headed for the coast. We went up a hill, an incline in the road, and then right at the top waiting for us were about 30 German tanks, which immediately opened fire on us, and I should say that the convoy I was in largely made up of trucks full of gasoline. So as a truck was hit, immediately it would explode and set off a fire in the next one. So after a very short period of time, the word came down, every man for himself.

I ran across this open field at which the Germans were firing. I could see the spurts of earth coming up. Rather unrealistically, like if you’ve never seen it before, it’s almost like watching something in a movie, except it’s real. The first night, it wasn’t too bad. The second night, we were beginning to get a bit hungry. And then on the third night, was when the roof fell in on me as it were. We were going along the edge of a field and I should say it was very moonlight, so we didn’t, we sought cover the whole time, put mud on the brassware of our uniform harness, etc. And all of a sudden, a car came along with an officer and three men inside and they jumped out and they began to reel in a field telephone line. We watched and to our horror, they were coming towards and we realized that the ditch in which we all jumped in was actually housed this field telephone line. We were by this time unarmed and all we had to do, all we could do, was in fact hope that the Germans would reel in their line without seeing us or noticing us because it’s in the middle of the night.

But however, as luck would have it, when they got within about 20 yards of us, I heard the click on a weapon, i.e., the safety catch was coming off and we were sitting targets. The Germans approached and hands up and one guy made a dive through the bushes and the officer said, in perfectly good English, “I’ll open fire if that man doesn’t come back,” loud enough for him to hear, so he came back. And the four of us were rounded up, marched to the car and held there until a truck came, and we were put in the truck and taken off to a farmhouse.

We went inside, name, number, that sort of thing, from the interpreter there, German officer. And, but no attempt was made to glean any other information, apart from the name, rank and number. He just said, in a phrase, which became a standard phrase, “For you, the war is over.” That was the, they all knew how to say that.

Eventually, we arrived at a fort and this fort had been built as part of German defenses against Russia. And I was among a group of 100 who were hired by the town of Czersk [Poland]. But during the first few months in Czersk, there wasn’t a great desire for recreation because you were up at 6:00 in the morning and you had to march about a mile to the worksite, where we were engaged in building a road.

Among the guards, there was always the guy that was not the sharpest of the knives in the drawer and his job this day was well off the side, but to guard the prisoners’ clothing. Because it was so hot, we just dumped our clothing in a pile and walked over to the job site. And he got the signal from the boss, the sergeant major, whoever it was, it was time to go home. He bent down and tried to pick up all these uniforms because the prisoners were a few hundred yards away. And of course, he couldn’t pick them all up, with his rifle and everything else. So he turned to one of the nearest prisoners and handed him his rifle and continued to pick up the uniforms. Of course, by the time it reached the sergeant major, the sergeant major nearly went out of his mind. Here was the Prisoner of War coming along with a loaded rifle and this other guy carrying the uniforms, which he shouldn’t have done in the first instance.

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