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Surviving horrors of life as war prisoner; Enduring unknown suffering while defending his country, this is the story of Albert Ions - a prisoner of war in the 1940s. Albert's experiences will never be forgotten thanks to the diary he penned after his return home. His wife Betty wants to keep her husband's memory alive through the preservation of his diary. Today and tomorrow we will share Albert's story. SARAH SCOTT has the details.

Byline: SARAH SCOTT

AS A bus driver, you would had never have guessed what he had been through.

When he returned home from the Second World War, Albert Ions worked behind the wheel.

But his Army service provided a journey to hell and back.

Albert, of High Heaton in Newcastle, was sent to the Middle East with his company, the 232rn Field Company but while there the men were captured and kept as prisoners of war for four years.

He wrote in his diary: "Early Saturday morning, 30th May 1942, a brigade of ferry tanks and infantry attacked the 232nd's positions, it was a piece of cake for them, as the RA were three miles from us and our heaviest weapons were the rifles, which were no good against tanks.

"Shortly after midday, 30th, the entire coy collapsed, and we were taken out of the battle-zone by tanks and trucks to ferry's echelon. However, we were informed later, that the rest of the brigade held out until the 7th June, then they too, were captured.

"The ferry's transport took us to Simmimi, where we were handed over to the Italians, as they claimed all prisoners who were captured in Libya. During the journey to Simmimi, we were bombed and strafed by the RA7 and RN7AA, we lost a few of the boys during these attacks.

"By the time that we had reached Simmimi we were in a pretty bad state owing to the lack of water and food. Naturally we were not expecting either sympathy or kindness from the Italians, but neither did we expect the treatment which we were subjected to.

"From Simmimi, we were dispatched to Benghas and Tripoli, the journey was performed in stages and we encamped at various places including Derna, Benghasi, El Aghelia, Sirte, Misurata, Tarkuana and Suari. At most of these places we just lay huddled together in the open, sanitation wasn't thought of, nor was medical treatment.

"Whilst we were in these so-called camps our rations were as follows, one 150gram loaf (morning coffee rolls) 1/4 litre of 'coffee', approx one ounce of cheese per day (when we were lucky), a small portion of boiled rice. When travelling, the daily rations consisted of two ship's biscuits and a small portion of horse meat and a litre of water.

"Malaria and dysentery were rife amongst the boys and they were enjoying themselves, they were very 'brave' dealing with unarmed and diseaseweakened men, rifle butts and boots were used frequently and quite a few of the boys never survived the journey."

Albert went on to describe some of the worst conditions he experienced.

"Conditions at Suari were appalling, sanitary arrangements were non-existent, water was only on from 5am/5.30am per day, there were roughly 25,000 men in the 'camp' we had no cover, except the trees, none of us possessed soap, towels, shaving kit, or a change of clothes, and it was very difficult to keep clean.

"As the camp was alive with fleas, lice etc, the position was none too bright, there was one MO, but he could not do much apart from give advice, as they would not give him any medical kit, and they refused to send any one to hospital.

"On July 3rd we embarked on four cargo ships for Italy, 4,000 of us on the smallest ship of the four. We were crowded into the holds and throughout the voyage this allowed only 12 men on deck at a time, (three per hold) and our rations were thrown into the holds, as if we were wild beasts.

"We sailed late evening of the 3rd, escorted by one aircraft carrier, two light cruisers, four destroyers and eight Focke-wolfe fighters, hugged the coast to Benghasi then headed for Greece, Crete and finally Saranto, Italy, docking and disembarking July 7th.

"We were marched up to the Naval Barracks to receive a bath, shave, and also to have all the hair shaved from our bodies and heads, after which we entrained for Capua, arriving there midday July 8th. It was here that we received a Red Cross parcel and 50 cigs, between five men, we also received an airgram to send home."

They were moved to a temporary camp and experienced exposure to the elements during the winter months. They moved to the new camp on November 20th but the conditions did not improve much.

"There were 4,000 boys in the camp and between October and March 1943 a good 50% of us were receiving medical attention, and the hospital was always full. A good few of the boys (approx 100) died with malnutrition, TB and malaria during that period. It was very boring, we had no work to do so a few of the boys started 'schools', languages, shorthand etc, others gave lectures, we held debates, held arts and crafts exhibitions, and during the fine weather, we had seven-a-side football and open-air concerts."

On Sept 8th 1943 they heard about the armistice between Britain and Italy. The number of guards around the camp was doubled to stop any attempts to escape. However, the prisoners of war were then taken to a camp in Poland near Auschwitz.

Albert tells of his experiences arriving in Poland. "On arrival at the camp we were given a very welcome hot bath, had our clothes disinfected (to get rid of the lice etc) then we received a meal of spuds, gravy, bread and cheese, then so to bed."

He wrote that this camp was a palace compared to the last one. They worked in a factory and were actually given their Red Cross parcels unlike at the last camp.

Although conditions were improved they soon took a turn for the worse and Albert wrote of when times got hard at the camp and his attempted escape.

"August (1944) was a very black month for the prisoners, in the first week our rations were cut and we were only allowed one 'free' day per month, then on the 25th, we experienced our first air-raid in which 39 POWs were killed and 19 wounded, from then on air-raids were a daily event, fortunately there were no further casualties.

"In October, we had a further decrease in rations and the parcels and mail were slowing down, reason being, the allied air forces were smashing up the big rail yards and communications.

"My pal James Soule and myself had been making preparations for an escape. As we had been unlucky in buying civvies we had decided to wait until the back-end of the year. The plan was to escape from the factory at about 4.30pm (it was dark at 4pm) travel by night and lay low during daylight, we were to strike due east, making for the Russian's front line, east of Krakau.

"We made our escape on the 4th November (by cutting the wire between the guard houses) there was an air-raid that night, which helped us immensely as all the lights were put out (there was no constant black-out like there was in Britain) and all troops and police etc had to stand-to."

The pair received aid from various Polish farmers but unfortunately Mr Ions was caught in a bog on November 9 and injured his leg escaping. The pair decided to go back to the farmhouse to request help. The farmer came to their aid (in what appeared to be a genuine response) but they had not been in the house half an hour when three policemen walked in. They were only 25km from the Russian border when they were recaptured. They were sent back to camp.

"We were sent back to the camp on the 10th November and put under close arrest, on the 13th we were court-martialed (escaping was classed as sabotage, a courtmartial offence) my pal was 'awarded' six-days and I eleven days (I was the worst offender as I spoke German) to be spent in Sosnowitz Bunker. "On arrival at Sosnowitz we were 'greeted' with those lovely words 'strafe-abiet' (hard labour) we were awakened at 4am each morning, allowed ten minutes to wash, shave and sweep our cells, given a drink of coffee and 90 grams of bread, then we set out on a five mile 'walk' to an asylum where we worked (digging an air raid shelter) until 6.30pm each evening. After Jim's sentence was finished I was kept in solitary confinement for my last five days."

CAPTION(S):

ARMY LIFE Elizabeth Ions, left, who''s husband Albert, inset, wrote a diary of his experiences during the Second World War WAR VETERAN Albert Ions, pictured in bottom row, second
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 29, 2011
Words:1441
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