Pte. Peter Bunfield - Five years as a German POW
Pte. Peter Donald Bunfield, aged 26, of the Lincolnshire Regt., only son of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Bunfield, Silver Birch, Carnsgate, Long Sutton, returned home suffering from the effects of malnutrition after five years as a prisoner of war in Germany. He took part in the horrible march of 500 miles with thousands of other prisoners earlier this year from Breslau to Cassel. He was liberated on Good Friday, and in the early hours of Wednesday morning he was back home in Long Sutton. He gradually regained the use of fingers which had been dead from the tips to the knuckles. One thing gave him great delight. That was when the camp from which he was liberated in Cassel was over-run by General Patten's Forces and became the prison for captured Germans, and the Allied men who had been prisoners for so long had the satisfaction of acting as guards for a short period. Pte. Bunfield joined the Lincolnshire Regiment in October, 1939, at the age of 20. In March the following year he was drafted to France, and two months later, on May 29th, 1940, was captured by the Germans in Belgium. Day after day, for nearly a month, he and hundreds of other prisoners were on the march towards their prison camp. All they had to eat were the bare German rations and potatoes and swedes they got out of the fields. All were terribly weak, and suffering from bad feet. They arrived at their camp on June 28th, the last four days mercifully being by rail. They had already walked 250 miles. At the camp Stalag 8b, Lamdorf, south of Breslau, they were kept very short of food. They were supplied with one-fifth and one-seventh of a 2lb. loaf of bread on alternate days, with a little jam or margarine. There was no meat. A month after arriving at the camp, Pte. Bunfield went out on irrigation work on which he was engaged until the following December. After that he was on forestry work. When they worked away from the camp, their rations were slightly better and a great improvement came about when the Red Cross parcels began to arrive at monthly or two-monthly intervals from the beginning of 1941. Pte. Bunfield warmly expressed his gratitude for those parcels, and said there was no doubt that thousands of men, including himself, owed their lives to them. They had no concessions from the Germans. All the time they were closely guarded. At times they, might make a guard friendly towards them by the gift of a cigarette from a Red Cross parcel, cigarettes being very scarce in Germany. For his 10-hour day at forestry he received 9d. He and other prisoners saved up their money and bought instruments with which to form a band, and this kept them entertained throughout the time they were in captivity. Pte. Bunfield’s instrument was a mandolin.
Pte. Bunfield was attached to this camp until January 22nd. They had already heard the guns of the approaching Russians, which sounded like music in their ears. They were moved north-west, and taken to Stalag 8a at Gorleitz. They had to march the 260 kilometres in bitterly cold weather, with snow on the ground. Then men became very ill, and four died from frostbite. The men who were regarded as fit had to carry their kit. Those who were sick were allowed to move more slowly in a column behind; and their kit was put in vehicles. Pte. Bunfield was fortunate in these terrible days on the road to have a good, strong pair of boots and he had also provided himself with a liberal supply of socks. That was the beginning of the 500-mile trek from Breslau to Cassel when the most terrible hardships imaginable were endured. At nights they were bundled like cattle into farm buildings, mostly barns, where the doors were padlocked. There was little food, for by the end of last year Red Cross parcels had stopped arriving owing to the breakdown of transport in Germany. In those days thousands of prisoners were pretty near starvation, and yet the German bullies and thugs shot scores of our British lads when they attempted during the night to obtain swedes and other growing crops from fields. Pte. Bunfield himself saw the shooting and it is something for which he can never forgive the Germans. One night he stole out to see what he could find, and was one of the fortunate ones not to be caught.
Within a week of arriving at Gorleitz they were on the road again, still footsore and weak, after being assured that they would not be moved again. The journey was relentless, with men dropping out by the wayside, some to die, until on March 12th the column Pte. Bunfield was in arrived at Stalag 9a, near Cassel. There they got back to something like the previous German rations; though reduced, especially the bread. They were there a fortnight before the great day of liberation. For days they had listened with high hopes and wild enthusiasm to the thunder of the British guns over the Rhine. Nearer and nearer came General Patton's Forces. The British and American prisoners suddenly found they had no guards - they had turned and fled as the liberators came onwards through Reich. Cheering prisoners greeted the Americans as they came to the camp, sharing their rations. The memory of Good Friday will remain all his life with Pte. Bunfield, and so will the day when he boarded a transport plane in Germany and left for England and Long Sutton, after five years in captivity.
Every town and village he went through on the 500-mile march from Breslau was in ruins. On that march Pte. Bunfield saw Pte. Basil Cox and Flt.Sgt. Kenneth Markillie, two other Long Sutton lads, but he did not see them again. They may have gone on another route. He had previously seen Flt. Sgt. Markillie at a base where he went for medical treatment. Pte. Bunfield was in the employ of Messrs. Christian & Dobbs in civilian life and before that attended Moulton Grammar School. His father was chief clerk at Long Sutton Station.