POW diary finally sees light of day

HERBERT Grimwood's diary was forgotten about and left in a drawer for decades. Today hiss candid account of his life as a prisoner of war, has been published more than 60 years after it was written.

HERBERT Grimwood's diary was forgotten about and left in a drawer for decades.

Today hiss candid account of his life as a prisoner of war, has been published more than 60 years after it was written. Feature writer JAMES MARSTON takes a closer look at this fascinating record.

IT was in a matter of fact style that Herbert Grimwood, nicknamed Taffy, detailed the closing hours of the Second World War.

A far cry from the German prison camp that was his home during much of the conflict, the sprightly 88-year-old lives today in a comfortable home in Ipswich's Valley road.

Found five years ago by second wife Irene, Taffy's remarkable diary is a poignant record of his life and thoughts in captivity.

Taffy said: “I knew about the diary but I'd never told my family or my first wife Hilda. I didn't really think about it much. I think I wanted to put the war behind me.”

Most Read

Although he didn't know it at the time, Taffy's destination as a young man was North Africa.

He said: “I was 24 years old and I was in the 67th Medium Regiment Royal Artillery. The Germans had laid siege to Tobruk for about a year and we were sent in to relieve the seventh armoured division.

“The whole regiment captured. We were ordered to blow everything up we could, which we did, and make for the beaches.

“I went with everyone else and we spent the night in a cave. The next morning we woke up and the germans were there with their guns. We were very disappointed.”

Then taken to Italy, and then on to Germany Taffy's War describes his life in a succession of POW camps. He described the food, the attitude of the Germans and other prisoners, his work, his thoughts on the future, his excitement at receiving letters from home, his reaction to the news of the war as the allies turned the tide against the Nazi forces.

All the while Taffy kept up his journal. He said: “I bought an exercise book and while I was in captivity it was a release for me to be able to write. There were 25 of us in one room from 6pm every night until the next morning. Writing a diary gave me something to do.”

After the war Taffy didn't talk much about his experiences and his diary was left undisturbed for many years. But it is thanks to Taffy's wife Irene, who he married in 1995, that the great grandfather has now shared his experiences.

She said: “When I read it made me cry. I thought it should be published as it was so moving. It was hard to read and it is very sad in parts to read what he was thinking and what happened to him. I think his story should be told.”

N

Taffy's War The Story of Prisoner 259175 is available from Ipswich Tourism Information office in St Stephen's Lane, or call The Erskine Press on 01953 887277.

The diary starts on July 28 1941

We are on our way, destination unknown as yet. We left Sevenoaks by train at 10pm. I decided the best thing to do was to have a kip.

We knew we were going abroad and that it would be somewhere hot as we were issued with tropical kit.

I slept most of the way, woke up at dawn to find we were in Avonmouth. At 8am we boarded the RMV Rangitiki, a 17,000 ton vessel belonging to the NZ Shipping Co.

Troops were embarking all day.

June 22 1942.

We left at dawn after a breakfast of bacon, biscuits, margarine and marmalade, having procured the food from an abandoned RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) wagon.

The Germans suddenly approached us and as we weren't armed we were forced to hoist the white flag. We felt pretty bad about it, but there was nothing else we could do.

Jerry ordered us to march into Tobruk, we changed course on the way and headed towards an aerodrome.

May 7th 1945

DOENITZ spoke to the Germans and told them all military equipment and men were top offer no resistance to the Allies and to travel east to fight the Russians. The War with England and America was now over.

Later we heard from the Frenchman that Churchill had spoken, stating that hiss five years as “war premier” would finish on the 10th of May and that the war would be over by then.

At 8.30am we saw the Frenchman again who told us the French radio had announced that the war would be finished any hour now and that Churchill would announce it. The question we asked was: Would Churchill announce it today?

At midnight we heard of the unconditional surrender to the three powers and prisoners were already being sent ho-me in Lancaster bombers.

The rest of us stayed up for a while cooking pancakes and flapjacks then had a rest.

May 17 1945

It was 11.45am when I got to Liverpool Street. I went straight to the YMCA and had a snack, then caught a train to Ipswich. Upon arrival at Ipswich at 3.10pm I sat on the station for a short time before deciding to walk the short distance home.

I knew Dad would be at work, my brother Jack was in the RAF (a squadron leader) at Shrewsbury, my sister Joan was in the ATS, stationed at Dover, and my sister Kath was married and living in Wales. But Mum was at home.

Twenty minutes after leaving the station I walked up the three steps to our front door in Wherstead Road. If it was unlocked, Mum would be in.

She knew I was in England, but not when I was expected home. It would be a nice surprise for her and an emotional one for both of us.

After a few minutes, mum got up from her chair, went into the kitchen and made a cup of tea. Then we talked until my dad came home from work.

After tea I walked along to see my girlfriend Hilda and her mum and dad. Then Hilda and I spent a few happy hours planning our forthcoming wedding.

As I said before, it was good to be home.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter