Captivity- Officers of 367 Battery, 140th Field Regiment
The Cassel breakout by the ‘Somerforce’ (145 Brigade) resulted in the death or capture of most of the men in its ranks. A very small number successfully escaped to Dunkirk. British Officer POWs (who would have been in the age range approximately 30-50 years) were segregated from enlisted men into separate POW camps known as ‘Offizierslagers’ (abbreviated to Oflag). According to the Geneva Convention men above the rank of Sergeant were not compelled to work, although some Officers did volunteer to join various Arbeitskommandos.
Brigadier the Hon Nigel Somerset
The Commanding Officer of 145 Brigade, Brigadier Somerset was captured at Cassel on 30th May, and transferred initially to Oflag VIII-E Johannisbrunn located in the spa town of Jnsk Koupele in the Czechoslovakian part of Silesia. Subsequently he was transferred to Oflag IX.
Lieutenant-Colonel Cedric Odling
140th Regiment’s Commanding Officer Lt-Col Odling, wounded in the leg on 29th May, was captured in Cassel and taken initially to the Field Hospital in St Omer.
Major Nevill Christopherson
After his injury on the 29th May, Major Christopherson had been driven, in a concussed state, by a volunteer in a staff car out of Cassel but the car was intercepted by the Germans on the road heading towards Dunkirk.
Christopherson described the details of his injury and capture in a letter home that was transcribed by his wife and is set out below:
‘Lucky to be alive as, after a great battle at Cassel which we held for six days (after six days on the Dyle and a week retreating and fighting) struck by a piece of mortar that shattered the back of steel helmet, knocked unconscious and broke back of skull between the nerves for more than seven inches! A volunteer tried to drive me back towards Dunkirk but we were captured and I came round to find myself a prisoner in hospital in St Omer. Afterwards moved to Enghien near Brussels (a cross between a hospital and a prison with bad points of both). After a month, left and after some moves arrived here August 16th.‘
Major Edward Milton
Major Milton had managed to escape from Cassel on foot with his Driver William Martin (see ‘Breakout‘ section) but was seriously wounded a few miles to the East of the town in the small hours of 30th May.
Major Milton died in the German Field hospital at St Omer on 31st May 1940 and is buried at Longueness Souvenir Commonwealth War Cemetery, alongside six other members of the Regiment, including Bombardier Arthur Ross of ‘F’ troop.
Captain Cecil Hood
Captain Hood had managed to make progress on the Breakout but ran into German troops in Winezeele. His capture is described in the ‘Breakout‘ section.
Reverend C.F. Beale
The 140th Regiment Padre, Rev. Beale was recorded as being wounded and captured at Cassel.
Lieutenant Jack May
Lt. May of F Troop, injured at Chateau Masson on 28th May, was able to escape at Dunkirk but was injured by German aircraft fire while on a little ship. Lt. May died of his injuries in England on 21st June 1940 and is buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Bromley Hill, Kent.
Field Hospital at St Omer
The three senior officers of the Regiment, Lt. Col. Odling, Major Christopherson and Major Milton, all injured in the battle, were escorted by the Germans to the Field Hospital at St Omer for treatment of their injuries on 30th May 1940.
The town of St Omer is approximately 13 miles to the West of Cassel and was in German hands by May 25th. The field hospital site is now occupied by a large prison complex just to the South of the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Longueness Souvenir.
Lt. Col. Odling and Major Christopherson were judged to have recovered sufficiently to transfer from the hospital into captivity on 4th July 1940.
Oflag IX, Spangenberg
Lt Colonel Odling and Brigadier Somerset were both interred at Oflag IX, a POW camp based at Spangenberg Castle in the small town of Spangenberg in north-eastern Hesse, Germany.
Officers at Oflag IX A/H, 1941. Lt Col Cedric Odling is seated 2nd row, 4th from left; Brig. Nigel Somerset is seated to his immediate right (5th from left)
Lieutenant Colonel C.J. Odling
The Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Cedric Odling had been wounded in the knee and lower leg. I have obtained a postcard he sent to Winchester School from his captivity in Oflag IX on 31st March 1941.
31.3.41 Many thanks for yours Jan 16. Your previous letter not come, but will roll along one day I expect. Nevill Chris. [Christopherson] was my 2nd in C. but not in this camp which consists mainly of grands blesses, docs & padres waiting repatriation…..I have a bad knee ‘subluxation’ the docs call it and urgently need treatment for resulting damage to nerves in foot…..
Cedric Odling was eventually repatriated to England in October 1943, and I have a copy of a letter sent on his arrival home to Winchester School.
November 1943. ‘Yes I am actually home again, at last, and even now I can hardly realise it is not a dream Both the Swedes and the North Sea were extraordinarily kind to us and I am really very well indeed.My knee continues to improve…..The goons morale is getting steadily lower, the guards have for some months past been existing on a pathetic trust that somehow or another a miracle is going to save them from the Russians and that we are going to make a separate peace with them…….Yours sincerely Cedric Odling’
Brigadier the Hon Nigel Somerset
The Commander of 145 Brigade, Brig. Somerset remained in captivity until the end of the war. In 1943 he was asked to lead a delegation of senior British Officer POWs commissioned by the German authorities to witness their investigation of the Soviet massacre of Polish Army officers at Katyn, a task that Brig Somerset wisely declined.
Brigadier Nigel Somerset in Oflag IX, 5th from left, to his right is Major Clout
Oflag VIIC, Laufen
Laufen Castle, Bavaria- the site of Oflag VIIC
The majority of the other 140th Regiment Officers were transferred to Oflag VIIC in Laufen, Bavaria. Major Christopherson arrived at the camp in August 1940 and wrote in June 1941 to describe conditions in Oflag VIIC as follows, the letter having being transcribed and type-written by his wife:
‘Life here till mid December bad, but then Red Cross parcel, letters, clothing began to arrive regularly. In March numbers reduced from 1,300 to 600 officers and 170 orderlies. (still not uncrowded!) General atmosphere has much changed for the better ; in fact I consider we are treated as Officer Prisoners of War should be. I admit sitting on stools, washing and shaving in snow-fed cold water, 14 officers sleeping, eating, working, reading, smoking, (cooking on winter evenings) talking, arguing, or playing games in a room 25x17x10 with one window is not the acme of comfort but we might be much worse off………….Very few Londoners. News from my friends would be welcome. Nevill Christopherson’
Major Christopherson’s capture card Oflag VIIC dated 16th August 1940
Photograph of Oflag VIIC, 1940s courtesy Sally Sirkett
Christmas Card 1940, Oflag VIIC, courtesy Sally Sirkett
Captain Cecil Hood
Captain Hood kept a detailed diary during his captivity during 1940-45, some of which featured in newspapers of the time. This is an article that appeared in War Illustrated based on Captain Hood’s diary in March 1941 (with thanks to Helen Hood).
Captain Cecil Hood’s capture card, Oflag VIIC dated 14th June 1940
Pages from Captain Hood’s the ‘Prison Diary of a British Officer‘ -The War Illustrated 1941
Pages from ‘the Prison Diary of a British Officer‘- The War Illustrated 1941
Captain F.N. ‘Paddy’ Sirkett
Captain Sirkett produced several very atmospheric sketches during his captivity, and thanks to his widow Sally Sirkett, I am able to reproduce them here:
Sketch showing the inside of [presumably] Hut 61, Oflag VIIC
Sketch showing an Anglican service, Oflag VIIC
Sketch of an ice hockey match dated February 1942, Oflag VIIC
Sketch of a winter scene, Oflag VIIC dated January 1942
Captain Ronald Baxter
Captain Baxter was also transferred to Oflag VIIC and, again thanks to Sally Sirkett, I can reproduce copies of his correspondence home from that Oflag:
Letter from Oflag VIIC dated 26th November 1940
‘…When we first arrived we were weak from exhaustion and hunger, but are now getting fit.
There are lectures indoor games. We have formed a concert party, orchestra a dance band, library and individual officers give piano recitals. There is a fair amount of room for outdoor exercise. Reveille is at 07.30 am with German coffee. Parade at 09.15 am, Lunch at 11.00 am, then tea at 4 pm. Then we can have supper meal any time from 7 pm. There are 70 officers in my room (No. 61) [including Paddy Sirkett and Capt Cecil Hood]
We sleep on straw mattresses, rather a tight fit. Cold water for washing, hot shower once a week on Wednesdays. Pay day 3 times a month. Canteen sells drinks, toilet articles, clothes etc. But rather expensive. So to bed at 10. 30 pm.
Letter from Oflag VIIC, 10th December 1940
‘..I do not want my coat, I had one given me here. The first three months were grim, no news, no parcels, no clothes. Things are better now, more organised. Pantos will be put on at Christmas. Games and competitions also.
Paddy [Capt Sirkett], Tom [Capt Hood], Westley [Captain Westley] and I play a lot of bridge. We keep together makes life bearable, such friendship.
My last batman was killed and Paddy’s batman too. Jack was hit on May 27th in the afternoon. I was at an OP [outpost] at some distance away. The German tanks [were firing] from 300 yards, several were killed or wounded Jack continued to direct fire while on the ground, showing great courage and example. As his troop commander recommended him for the Military Cross. I did not see him again. We were taken [captured] on May 30th. I was very lucky, bore a charmed life as the battery was under fire continuously. We had three weeks constant fighting being among those to go into Belgium to the most forward position. We did see life!
Letters from Oflag VIIC, 7th & 21st January 1941