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January 1939 to April 1945 BEF to Captivity and back to Blighty

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:20 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

W H Clements was already a Territorial Army recruit prior to the outbreak of the war, at the time, he was working for P H Smith a reputable builder of Highgrove Street, Reading, as a Builder Decorator & Plumber, living at 24 Whitley Street with his wife Evelyn and 2 daughters Evelyn and Patricia, later his Mother in law and sister in law lived at the same address. His mother and my grand father also W H Clements originally hailed from Hailey nr Witney in Oxfordshire and was brought up in the Carpenters Arms public House along the main road.

Prior to leaving for France, time was spent in the Horse and Jockey pub (where some damage occurred to the premises and the landlord Mr Dunsden was suitably reimbursed !!!!)His epic journey started January 1940 from Standford in the Vale nr Farringdon onto the port of Southampton to :Le Harve from here the 226th Field Company Riyal Engineers travelled onto Yvetot then to Allery in Northern France during stays at these locations they constructed Pill boxes and Block houses (reinforced buildings which held upto 6 soldiers , repaired roads etc obtaining construction materials from various areas in the locality.

Much of the time in March/April 1940 was being based at Deuxville nr Nancy where again they were involved mainly on construction works.

A strange revelation was, when I was amassing the information from Prisoners Questionnaires, was that his brother in law, Frederick John Cook (also a Sapper in the Royal Engineers) gave the address at 24 Whitley Street as a C/O of, was also a POW at Stalag 344 but his prisoners questionnaire report was not as detailed as my father's.

Father's basic training being undertaken in Wiltshire. He was called up in January 1939 and joined the 226th Field Company Royal Engineers at Reading, this company joined the 48th Midland Division No 1 and this Division / 145 Brigade left the UK with the BEF (British expeditionary force) in January 1940 his soldier number was 2069710
Leaving from Southampton to Le Harve on landing in France and made its way to Belgium. Where there status, became a part of the Phoney War,from the 226th Field Company war diaries they were based at in a few places in Belgium, Tournai, Buizingen, Ath Lessies, Englien.
The Germans at this time were amassing their troops along the Belgian/French border and using the blitzkrieg tactics overwhelmed the British forces who were pushed back into France at the following locations Perigen,Bouvignes Watou,Hazre brouke & Cassel ultimately some of the Brigade making it back to Dunkirk, and its surrounds. Gaining access to the ships via the beach sands onto the mole arriving in Folkestone and Margate then train back to Hereford.
From my research and memory recalls from my father's discussions where he was captured at Watou / during the battle for Cassel, and on the 30th April 1940 he was captured, in a church yard along with his comrades.(snitched on by the locals evidently, he detested them for this.)this is confirmed by the war diaries of the 145th Brigade battle of Cassel. Detailing the rearguard actions and withdrawal back to Watou
There is very little available on the 226th RE except for the War Diary one thing to note is that the order for the retreat back to Dunkirk was not given until it was too late and one of the runners was specifically ordered not to broadcast his findings to his colleagues.
After being captured, long marches were commonplace for the POWs, and dads' journey was back into Germany, initially through Domart, St Pol, Bethune, and Seclin in France; Tournai, Renaix, Ninove, St Nicholas in Belgium; Hulst, Walsoorden, in Holland; Wesel, Hemer, and onward distribution to Oflags and Stalags in Germany. and then by cattle trucks shut in for several days and loaded to capacity onto Lambsdorf Upper Silesia Poland. (now called Lambowice) (this took some (30th May 1940 until April 1940. 18 days extracted from Dads capture date to arriving in Ober Silesia Lamsdorf.
During his imprisonment as a POW he was at the following camps :-
Stalag V111 *(B) (initial camp 1941} was formerly a barracks during the great war for the German army.
Stalag 344 Renamed and upgraded by the Germans to accommodate many more POWs
E3 (Part of Stalag 344) Close to the Hitler Canal and Oder River
E769 (Work detachment E 769 for British prisoners of war, a sub-camp of Stalag 344 at Lamsdorf, was situated inside the grounds of I.G. Farben's chemical plant at Heydebreck (Blechammer Sud) E 769 was located at a distance of between 400-500 yards from B.A.B 20.2

Stalag XIII-D was liberated by the US army on 26 April 1945 the first day of efforts to capture Nuremberg by the Americans.
Whilst he was at these camps, he was tasked with labouring duties with the working parties. to the following remote, areas/townships
Poppolau Upper Selisia (Forestry and mining) The work involved felling trees cutting into logs stripping the bark ready for paper making and props for use in the mines.
E131 & E132 Gogolin Upper Selisia During World War II the Germans established a forced labour camp for Poles and Jews[4] and two labour camps (E131 and E132) of the Stalag VIII-B/344 prisoner-of-war camp for Allied POWs at Łambinowice.[5] About 30 buildings were destroyed in the final stages of the war in 1945.[2] (Limestone Mines) mining limestone for the construction works.
E769 Blechammer (probably on the construction of the Synthetic Oil Factory) The Heydebreck or Blechhammer South is usually used to indicate one of the two chemical plants ( the other was just a short distance away at Blechhammer North) constructed by Nazi industrialists, and in particular I.G. Farben, near to the present-day settlement of Stare Koźle (Cosel), where they could exploit the pool of labour supplied by prisoners of war and forced workers. This area was the location of German chemical factories, prisoner-of-war camps, and other forced-labour camps. The factories used bituminous coal in a process to synthesize oil.
It was whilst he was here that many bombing raids, were carried out by the Americans, in close proximity, to where father was working. There are several references to this from the 371st Fighter Group also The US Fifteenth Air Force dropped 7,082 tons of bombs on Blechhammer, with many deaths and injuries resulting amongst the POWs who worked there.
A British document makes reference to the fact that it was located inside the "smoke area" of the premises, that is the area which would be covered by a smoke screen in case of pending air raid to render it, invisible to the American bombers.1
On route to XIII-D Nurmburg known as the southern route The "southern route", from Stalag VIII-B (formerly Stalag VIII-D) at Teschen (not far from Auschwitz) which led through Czechoslovakia, towards Stalag XIII-D at Nuremberg and then onto Stalag VII-A at Moosburg in Bavaria.It appears that he, departed from the E3 /E769 camps, on 22/01/1945 and was on known as the southern route , one of the long death marches, (basically walking across the length of the old Czechoslovakia but this one was to Nurmburg XIII-D , which meant that it took approximately 82 days to complete the horrific journey, in severe wintery conditions January and February 1945 were among the coldest winter months of the 20th century in Europe, with blizzards and temperatures as low as -25°C (-13°F), and even until the middle of March, temperatures were well below 0°C (32°F).[citation needed] Most of the POWs were ill-prepared for the evacuation, having suffered years of poor rations and wearing clothing ill-suited to the appalling winter conditions.
From E3/E769 it seems that a further march was performed by father, on the 22 January 1945, when the camp was evacuated and arriving on 13 April 1945 at Xiii-D. and was destined to take the POWs to Stalag VII A Moosburg which is where they were finally released by the Americans. 29 April 1945 - Stalag VII-A at Moosburg was liberated by Patton's Third United States Army,
On 4 May 1945 RAF Bomber Command implemented Operation Exodus, and the first prisoners of war were repatriated by air. Bomber Command flew 2,900 sorties over the next 23 days, carrying 72,500 prisoners of war. And father was flying back in a RAF Dakota (rattling and shaking, like mad) and arriving in England on the 10th May 1945
After arriving back in England and according to the official document Under the Kings Regulations 1940 he was discharged as unfit. (further clarification required on this data needs to be deciphered) He was demobbed in Brighton in 1945.
Walter Howard Clements went to a number of reunions in Streatham, London with fellow POW and extracts from a booklet shows his address as 20 Whitley Street Reading, Berks (his parents' address), indicating that he was without doubt imprisoned at camp E3, photographs (showing him in various plays, dressed as a cowboy,) either sent or brought home to his mother /family have on the address sent from Germany E3.
On returning to the UK he set up with my mother sometime in 1945, as detailed in the electoral roles, remaining at this address for several years, until approx 1957.
Dads Photo
Camp Entertainment Photos 4 No
Prisoners of War questionnaires
Extract E3 Document
Reading Standard Newspaper Snippet

Sources of Information
226th Field Company War Diaries
145th Brigade War Diaries
National Archives POW Missing Prisoners of War
Find My Past Electoral Roles, Census Military Data
Ancestry Electoral Roles, Census Military Data
Museum of Lambowice Germany
Various POW extracts from POWs memoirs
Newspaper Clips Find my Past


Item list and details

Photos of plays at Lambsdorf Prisoners questionnaire missing POWs 1939-1945 lists RE Unit Phot Lambsdorf

Person the story/items relate to

Walter Howard Clements

Person who shared the story/items

Paul Clements

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

He Was My Father

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID