The Journey Back
Colonel David Jebbitt - WWII Arnhem
David Jebbitt was
an RAMC medical orderly at Arnhem. As part of the 181st Field ambulance,
he was based at the main dressing station in the Schoonoord hotel (Oosterbeek).
He became a prisoner of war and taken to a POW camp in East Germany (Muhlberg
The following account, detailing his journey back from the camp, was written
by him in 1954, as part of a writing course. It is interesting in that
it shows just how wary the allies already were of the threat posed by
the Russian advance.
After the war, David remained in the RAMC and eventually rose to the rank
of Colonel. Frustratingly, he refers to 'we' throughout, without telling
us who his companions were. If anyone recognises this account as similar
to one they have heard it may lead to discovering who these POW comrades
The Journey Back
on Elbe was the site of Stalag IVB during the years we were at war with
It was there that I was moved as a very reluctant guest of the Third Reich
after being captured in Holland. However, my stay was not so long as expected
and three months later, after a night of constant rattle of gunfire, we
awoke to find that all the German guards had fled from the advancing Russian
army. That was a joyous day indeed, especially for those who had been
less fortunate than I, and had spent periods of up to four years in the
It may well be that my Father is the prisoner third in from the right
with the Pegasus insignia on his right arm
(Several family members have remarked on the likeness)
first few hours of daylight things settled down. The order was given by
the Russians that we remain in the camp, for 'mopping up' was still in
progress in the near vicinity and a few thousand ex-POWs milling around
outside might complicate matters. I returned to my hut and rested up on
my bed for a spot of happy contemplation now that for us the war was over.
The W.O. in charge of my hut came over to me and asked if I'd like to
go up to the German Lazarette. The Russians were moving all their sick
from the camp to the Lazerette and would like some help in looking after
them. I should get a decent bed up there and the thought of exchanging
my louse ridden straw mattress for a decent one was too good a bribe to
A couple of other volunteers joined us at the gate and we were escorted
to a small group of wooden buildings, about a mile up the road, outside
the camp. A room recently vacated by the late camp guards was made available
We dumped our few personal belongings and tried out the springs of the
three beds in the room. We were sure of a good nights sleep for the few
nights we were to be there. The W.O. had assured us that we would stay
only until the Russians joined up with the Americans and a route back
to England was available for us.
The first week went by and we had no complaints. We fed at the kitchen
with the Russians, and although nothing fancy appeared in the fare, it
was solid and substantial and certainly an improvement on what we had
been existing on. The patients we looked after were mostly suffering from
malnutrition, as the Russians had no Red Cross parcels to supplement their
Our duties consisted of helping to make the beds, wash the floors, and
fetch the patients' food from the kitchens. There was one Russian doctor
and about half a dozen Russian uniformed girls who carried out the nursing
A fortnight after we had been moved up to the Lazerette, the British and
American ex-prisoners of the camp were moved out by American lorries,
the Americans having joined up with the Russians at the Elbe. We got ready
to join them.
Our expectancy was short lived. We were told that permission had been
obtained for us to stay behind for a couple of days until further Russian
reinforcements arrived to help out. We would then be taken down to the
American lines and handed over for repatriation.
A little dismayed, we returned to our work. The Russians appeared to be
friendly, although actual conversation was invariably carried out in a
broken German, which was not very good on either side.
For the next couple of days we carried on as before. The floor washing
was beginning to become rather tedious, for our Russian friends seemed
to obtain a humourous satisfaction from watching us on our hands and knees
every day. The excuse of reinforcements was also beginning to appear a
bit thin. Lounging around were quite a number of fawn smocked Russians,
sporting hammer and sickle cap badges, who would be equally capable of
floor scrubbing. Another week went by and still, daily, we were presented
with buckets of hot water, disinfectant and scrubbing brushes.
enquiries about when we were to be escorted to the American lines did
not produce a satisfactory reply, so we decided that scrubbing was out
until we knew exactly where we stood and the day we were to be repatriated.
In a mixture of English, German and sign language, we conveyed to the
Russian officer that we were going on strike, but we received no satisfaction.
That night, after our evening meal, we returned to our room and decided
that we would take matters into our own hands, that if the Russians would
not take us to the Elbe we would make our own way there.
The following day we stocked up with bread and odd scraps salvaged form
the kitchen and each with a haversack, prepared for our journey. By now
the Russians attitude left open to doubt that should we be found moving
off, we might be forcibly detained. We would therefore leave that night.
Our packed haversacks were carefully smuggled out and hidden in a clump
of bushes about a hundred yards down the road. After dark we sauntered
out of the building and strolled casually down the grass verge of the
roadside. Behind the bushes we collected our haversacks and struck out
across the fields, the moonlight was sufficient to show us our way. We
had a rough idea of the direction to take. We decided to keep clear of
the roads until we were well clear of the camp. We know that we could
circle around the outside of the town of Muhlberg and that the river Elbe
lay on the other side. We had only then to follow the course of the Elbe
until we came to a bridge, cross over and place ourselves in the hands
of the first Americans we came across.
going until early dawn and covered about fifteen to twenty miles, until
the town of Muhlberg was behind us.
As dawn rose we decided to find a place to sleep. An old farm building
in the distance seemed to be the most suitable place. There was only an
old farmer in occupation when we arrived. After we had told him who we
were he seemed very glad of our company. His opinion of the Russians expressed
as "Ruskie nix good". Most of the German population had fled across the
Elbe from the advancing Russians, who, so the farmer said, had looted
everything of value during their advance. Our German host prepared us
a hot stew. Afterwards we slept off the weariness of our nights journey.
Shortly after mid-day we awoke and decided that we would push on ahead
for the American lines. The farmer prepared us a cup of coffee and bid
On the road towards Reisa we caught up with a German woman who was pushing
a small wooden trolley with all her worldly possessions piled on top.
She recognised us as English and begged that we take her with us to the
Americans. As she spoke a certain amount of English we felt that her help
as interpreter would be useful and we agreed. We piled our haversacks
onto the trolley and taking it in turns to push the cart, continued our
journey. The road we were on seemed endless. A few trucks passed us but
nobody stopped to enquire who we were. Our journey took us through one
or two villages, but they had been reduced to ghost towns and all the
occupied houses had large red flags hanging down from the windows to comply
with Russian orders. Very few Germans remained on the streets. Occasional
movements behind drawn curtains told us that frightened people were trying
to catch a glimpse of their future fate. As night approached the German
woman said she knew some people in the next town in whose house we could
spend the night.
The lack of restful sleep was now fast catching up with us. We felt that
a good nights sleep was becoming a necessity. We found the house and the
large red flag, which adorned it, proved that the family had remained
there. The occupant, a doctor, made us welcome. He showed us into what
had been his consulting room and provided us with wood for a fire. A further
large stew followed, finished off with bread and cheese. The German doctor
told us of the Russian advance and further of the raping and looting that
had taken place. We commiserated, but even then it seemed strange that
we should so suddenly side with our former enemies against our wartime
The following day we moved off towards the Elbe. The German woman told
us there was a bridge across the river two miles away. She herself had
decided to remain with the doctor.
After walking for about half an hour along the main road we came to the
bridge. We saw a small wooden hut at the side of the entrance and a wooden
pole placed on two trestles straddled the road. An armed Russian sentry
was standing outside the hut and another guard was pacing the bridge to
the centre, the other half of the bridge being patrolled by an American.
We indicated to the Russian outside the hut that we were British and wished
to cross over the bridge. He disappeared inside and emerged again accompanied
by an officer. Shortly afterward a US officer, seeing our predicament,
came across and conferred with the Russians. The American was very pleasant.
He shook hands with us, saying that we would soon be on our way home,
but first the Russians wanted proof of our identity before they would
let us cross the bridge. This was quite easy : we had our pay books and
stalag identity cards. After scrutinising them, the Russian officer handed
them back and shouted a command to the sentry. We were allowed to cross.
The American officer hastily obtained a jeep and we were taken to their
barracks to be flown home to England the following day. While waiting
for the jeep to arrive we chatted to the Americans on guard at the bridge.
They all had a pretty poor opinion of their Russian allies. One even said
that he would have been quite willing to have continued the advance right
through to Moscow.
It distinctly remains in my memory that he commented "It'll save us the
job in ten years time" his ten years prophesy are up in May of this year.