POW plight

Spending almost the entirety of the Second World War as a prisoner was the fate of many of those captured during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940.

A recent family history research request revealed this to be the case for Green Howards soldier, 4389088 Private Ronald Jackson, who served with the 4th Battalion. But, just as it looked like freedom was near, it was brutally snatched away.

Ronald’s Red Cross Prisoner of War record confirms the next-of-kin as his brother Charles and confirms the location of the camp in which he was held as a Prisoner of War (POW), Stalag XX-B at Malbork, Poland. Red Cross records are fascinating for the information they sometimes hold. In Ronald’s case it even notes his shoe, shirt and cap size. This would have helped with putting correctly sized items in any parcels sent to him. The dates the parcels were sent are noted, as are the dates that receipt was acknowledged.

Next to the camp name is the number E215. This number relates to the work camp (Arbeitslager) to which Ronald would have gone each day. Prisoners were sent out to labour in nearby farms, sawmills, factories, goods-yards and were also put to work cutting ice on the nearby river Nogat. Despite much searching, we have been unable to identify the exact identity of E215, but we will keep looking.

The card also notes Ronald was ‘visited by Mrs Roche.’ Not something we have not seen before; perhaps Mrs Roche was a Red Cross representative. Something more familiar is the word ‘adopted’ , which means Ronald had been allocated to a schoolchild as a pen-friend. Ronald’s death has also been added, ‘killed by an SS officer’.

There are two files in the National Archives (NA) which cover the execution by an SS Officer of Private Jackson and other prisoners in the German town of Putlitz on 24 April 1945 (the date of the 27th written on the index card is incorrect.)

Unfortunately, these files have not been digitised so we could not obtain copies, nor could we order them as the NA are not operating their usual service due to the impact of Covid-19 on staffing.

Despite the current lack of the ‘official’ version of events, we have found two accounts of the murder of Ronald and five other men.

Some of Ronald’s relatives visited his grave in Putlitz, about 80 miles north west of Berlin, in 2002. Whilst they were there, a local resident came to speak to them and related the story of what had happened that day.

“Most of the prisoners worked in the village and it was customary for prisoners to visit the butcher’s shop to barter for food to supplement their meagre rations. The Russian army were fast approaching and there were already white flags hanging out of windows; the population fearing their approach. The German soldiers that still remained there were distinctly nervous. On that particular day this small party of prisoners visited the village as usual to get food. They had just about reached the courtyard of the castle in Friederichstrasse, when a motorbike of the German Military Field Police approached and the German officer opened fire on the group.” (from The Queens’ Own Royal West Kent (QORWK) Regimental Journal, No. 10, Spring 2005).

The other men who found themselves in precisely the wrong place at exactly the wrong time and who also died were:

Private Albert True, Queens’ Own Royal West Kent Regiment; Sepoy Gasam Ali, Indian Army; Private James Clarkin, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders); Sepoy Kisan Sugk, Indian Army and Lance Corporal Gordon Pollitt, The Kings Regiment,(Liverpool).

German troops in north-west Europe surrendered to the British ten days later.

Another account, from a surviving eyewitness, is published in The Black Watch: Fighting in the front line, 1899-2006 by Victoria Schofield. “The German officer was shouting ‘Swinehund Englander’ (English pig). We appealed to him that these men were Scotch and had nothing to do with the war having been prisoners for 5 years.”

Ronald and the other soldiers lie in Putlitz Town Cemetery.

The museum holds a number of images of men who had been held at Stalag XX-B, including the one below. Unfortunately we do not have a photograph which identifies Ronald Jackson.

Men held in Stalag XX-B. The only soldier identified is Lance-Corporal Joseph Brookes who is 2nd from the left in the front row. Private Jackson would have known these men and would, perhaps, have worked with them at the Arbeitslager.

Dealing with family history research enquiries is one of the many things the museum has continued to do during lockdown. From time to time this work uncovers stories which are anything but ordinary, just like this one, researched by volunteer, Steve Erskine. We’d like to thank Yvonne Coleman, Ronald’s Jackson’s niece for permission to share our research findings.

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