Former PoW Charles Clarke tells us what life was like for the prisoners at Stalag Luft III.
The German Luftwaffe, who were responsible for Air Force prisoners of war, maintained a level of professional respect for their fellow aircrew prisoners, and treated them quite fairly within the Geneva Convention. However, food supplies were erratic and inconsistent and of course, security was strict.Food parcels were regularly sent in via the International Red Cross and distributed equally amongst the prisoners.
Charles says: "The trouble with prison life is that we were all very young people. It seemed an age for us. The period we spent in prison camp would be nothing now. And you never knew how long it was going to take before we were freed or what would happen to us at the end. Particularly after the 50 [were shot in the Great Escape] and the uncertainty.
"Food was very short. We used to get a loaf of German bread that I was convinced was made of sawdust. And there was one bread slicing machine on the camp – a hand slicer – and we used to cut it up to see how many slices we could make out of it. And then we would lay it on the table. There were 16 of us in the hut, in the room, and we would then cut cards [to see] who had choice of slice, just in case one had a grain of sawdust more than the other.
"The same happened with what we used to call "glob". Very occasionally we would get some sort of liquid with weevils in it. We'd ladle it out into 16 bowls and we’d cut cards [to see]who had choice of bowl, just in case one had a little more than the other. And then we’d actually cut cards [to see] who would lick out the pail it came in.
"For exercise we used to walk around the perimeter. We used to call it bashing the circuit. The perimeter was probably a mile around. But that's how we exercised. And lots of sports, football, a kind of cricket with limited equipment. But volleyball was popular because you needed so little for that.
"There was a so-called gymnasium, I mean it was one room with some weights – homemade weights."