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One Very Lucky Trooper

B61531 Trooper Allen, Lawrence G. was a very lucky soldier. As the Loader/Operator on Sergeant James “Ace” Bailey’s tank on D-Day he very nearly drowned making his way to the beach after his tank had foundered in the surf. In fact, he only regained consciousness some hours later when his good friend Trooper A.O. Dodds who was removing his dog tags for identification purposes noticed that he still had a pulse and worked to revive him. Soaking wet the men took shelter in a German bunker where Allen found a pair of German “Jack boots” to replace his own boots discarded on the swim in to the beach. Without a tank he spent the first week in Normandy working in the echelon. On the 10th of June he was assigned to Corporal Reginald Pike’s crew in the newly reformed B-Squadron. As a Loader/Operator he was extremely busy as his tank crossed the wheat fields outside Le Mesnil-Patry. Looking up from his position Allen could see Corporal Pike with his hatch open cursing loudly. Asking what was the matter Pike replied “Those B….... are shooting at my head!” Just then the Co-driver shouted over the intercom “Enemy hornets (Tanks) on our left” followed by the Driver yelling “We’ve been hit" and “We’ve got a fuel leak down here!” Suddenly everything was chaos and confusion. Over the radio Allen heard someone saying that their crew commander had been killed and asking what to do, and then, our guns are overheating what should we do? This was followed by someone exclaiming “P… on them and get off the air you’re jamming!” At the same time Reg, (Corporal Pike) is screaming almost incoherently "misfire.... misfire!" meaning the shell in the cannon had not fired. Allen performed the required action and it misfired a second time. He now had to remove the highly dangerous shell that could go off at any time and throw it overboard. On his first attempt to open the hatch a German bullet ricocheted into the turret. He was more successful on the second attempt and returned to loading the main gun. All of this happened in just seconds. The driver is asking for permission to withdraw as fuel Is running out, at the same time as the Squadron Commander was ordering the advance to speed up. Corporal Pike ordered the driver forward. The tank crashed through a hedge and stopped. There was a stone wall to the right, a thick hedge to their left, no way forward, no way to turn around and German soldiers where all around them. Corporal Pike yelled “There's a German out here with an anti-tank rifle he’s going to shoot us”! Allen yelled back “Shoot him first!” When he attempted to do so his gun misfired and the German put several rounds into the engine compartment. Corporal Pike immediately ordered “Abandon tank” and was gone.

The gunner first fired several high explosive rounds into the bush in an attempt to clear the way and as he and Allen exited the crippled tank the found Corporal Pike below with a German submachine gun. Pike turned to Allen and asked “Coming with me Allen?” To which he replied “No!” “We are going to find a hiding place in the bush.” The last anyone saw of Corporal Pike was as he walked towards the German Lines. Allen and the rest of the crew hunkered down in the bush and a short time later parts of three other crews joined them. These men were all in very bad condition. All but one was badly burned. These men Allen hid nearby so that they wouldn’t all be caught together if the Germans heard their constant moans. The last person was Captain Smuck and although burned, shot, and in a state of shock was still game. He drew his pistol and said “C’mon Allen we’ve been in tougher spots that this and got out” but Allen would have none of it and managed to convince the captain that the best chance they had was to hunker down and wait for dark. A short time later they could hear German soldiers picking up their wounded. As they discover the wounded Hussars shots rang out, and then they shouted “Englander Soldaten?” then more shots. This was repeated a few times until the moaning stopped. The last he heard from his friends was Captain Smuck calling for his wife. He also heard nearby German wounded calling out “Mutter mutter” mother mother. Thinking that it would not be a good idea to be caught wearing the German boots that he had been doing since D-Day, Allen removed them and hid them. At this point he remembers promising God if he got out of this, he would serve him faithfully for the rest of his life. A short time later he heard German soldiers approaching and lay very still. The next thing he heard was “Englander, Comrade?” “Englander Soldaten?” This was followed by the very clear sound of a bayonet being drawn and fixed to a rifle and finally COMRADE! From the tone he knew his only option was surrender and fearing the worst he stood up. There were three of them and one had a fixed bayonet. To his surprise he was ordered to march. As they moved off, they noticed that he had no shoes and he managed to make them understand that he had removed them so he could move more quietly. As they passed a dead Canadian, he pointed to the boots and his feet suggesting that he take them but they very firmly refused. Much later he learned that it was a German practice to bobby trap the bodies of dead Canadian soldiers.

Eventually they arrived at a field headquarters location. On the way he had been kicked, punched, and spat on, and he was convinced that he would have been killed had it not been for his three captors. At the headquarters he was interrogated by a young officer who spoke fair English. The first question was why did he not have identification to which he replied that it was lost in the landing. Other questions were quite typical and were about his unit, its strength, his commanding officer, etc. The officer was not pleased with his answers and at one point drew his pistol and poking it into his stomach looked directly into his eyes and said “It’s a long way to Tipperary now!” “Are you afraid?” In a state of shock Allen answered “NO” and was very relieved when after a long pause the German re-holstered his pistol and left. A short time later he was collected by an NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) and another soldier. He was taken behind a Panther tank and made to kneel. Here the NCO who could not speak English, searched him and repeatedly asked for paper. Not understanding Allen handed him a small packet of folding toilet paper that he had in one of his pockets. The German exploded in anger. He began screaming and swung his rifle but at Allen’s head. Dodging the blows by rolling on the ground Allen eventually rolled under a truck. Where he was saved by the officer who asked what had happened? Explaining what he had done the officer informed him that the NCO was asking for his identification and was greatly insulted when he was handed toilet paper. Left alone for the rest of the day, and given the rumours about the Germans not taking prisoners, and what had already happened to his companions that afternoon, Allen wondered how long it would be before he joined them.

That night Allen was taken by truck to what he thought might have been a monastery. At any rate it was a group of stone buildings surrounded by a stone wall. There he was taken into a room where an SS officer was having a meal. When he had finished, he ordered Allen to finish what was left on his plate. Allen having had no food or water since morning, and having existed on hard rations since D-Day, had to struggle to keep the rich food down, and still he was not given anything to drink. He was kept awake all night, and was questioned again every four hours when the guards changed. If it looked as if he might doze off the guards would poke him with sticks or rifles. In the morning he saw men washing up at a pump and asked for a drink. His guard instead handed him a bottle of vodka and when Allen refused took it back and taking a stiff drink pounded his chest and smacked his lips as if to say “drink like a man” Refusing a second time the German laughed and allowed him to finally drink from the pump and wash up.

Later that day he was taken to a location in Caen where he was put with a group of about 20 other POWs. They were forbidden to talk but they understood that they were to be interrogated. They were all very apprehensive as the prisoners were taken out one by one but no one returned. When Allen’s turn came, he was taken into what appeared to be a mess hall and seated across the table from an SS officer. The officer did not speak for some minutes instead he simply stared at Allen slowly smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke in Allen’s face. As the questioning began the officer played with his cigarette package just out of Allen’s reach. If he didn’t like an answer the package was moved further out of reach. At one point he shouted something and someone put a large bowl of steaming soup on the serving counter where Allen could both see and smell it. Then before asking the same questions all over again, he had a second bowl of soup brought in and indicated that he was about to have his lunch and asked if Allen would like to join him. Not getting the answers that he wanted the soup was taken away and the officer angrily ordered the guards to remove him. Once again Allen expected that his time was up but instead, he was taken into a courtyard where he found all the POWs that had been previously been taken away. His relief lasted for only a short while as a very serious looking NCO wearing a pistol pointed at him and ordered him to accompany him, and, once again he thought this was it. As he was lead through the gate into the street Allen was sure that he was about to be publicly executed. Instead, he was shocked to be addressed in perfect English. His guard had studied in Canada before the war and they wound up having quite a philosophical discussion on their relative situations and politics. It turned out that they were on their way to a bakery to pick up bread for the prisoners. As they entered the shop Allen was warned to be careful as he was still a prisoner, but inside, he was given a piece of bread with butter and a glass of wine by his guard. After the war Allen often wondered what had happened to this man and hoped that he had survived. That night Allen had the experience of being on the receiving end of a massed bomber raid. He spent much of it huddled against the thick stone wall.

The next day the prisoners fit to march set out for an unknown location. The sick and disabled were left behind. Allen still had no boots and marched in his socks until the gave out and after that in his bare feet. In the end he was very thankful for all the days that he went barefoot as a child. There was no transportation on this march and anyone that dropped out was left for dead on the side of the road. It was very warm on the march and they were not given any food or water. At one point the guards stopped in a village square to refresh themselves at a pump but refused the prisoners any water. They were many miles south of Caen when they finally stopped. They were housed in a very large structure with nothing inside but concrete pillars and a thick layer of straw on the floor. Virtually any movement in the straw raised clouds of choking dust. That night they received their only food and drink that day, a watery stew and a cup of tea made from some tree bark. The next morning dishevelled from days in captivity, and covered in dust from the barn they were marched past movie cameras for a propaganda film to be shown to the French civilians. From there they were tucked to a Paris railway station where they were once again put on parade and people in civilian clothes spat on them, punched, and kicked them for the benefit of more cameras. At the train station they were packed into boxcars so tightly that they had to take turns sitting and once again, they were given nothing to eat or drink. After travelling all night, they were eventually unloaded at facility where they were checked over by doctors and registered as POWs (Prisoners Of War).

A few days later they were transferred to a permanent camp, Stalag IV-B near Muhlberg Germany just East of the Elbe River. Due to the constant Allied bombing the German transportation system was in very poor shape and as a result rations in the camp were very meagre and the men suffered badly. In the beginning the men received ½ of a “Red Cross" parcel per month but soon this was reduced to ¼ and eventually nothing. By the end the Germans could not even feed themselves. The camp was eventually "liberated" by the Russians who, Allen felt treated their “Allies” as badly or worse than the Germans. However, after about a month in Russian hands things changed dramatically. Suddenly, the Russians treated them like "best buddies" throwing them a party and sharing cigarettes and vodka with them and a few days later they were transported to the American lines. The war was over.

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