Klaus Behr’s Prisoner of War Diary

Klaus Behr, German POW, with Webb family
Klaus Behr, German POW, with Webb family
Drawing of layout of Springhill POW Camp
Springhill Camp

Klaus Behr’s thoughts during his first February in captivity at Springhill Camp 185.

Translation Copyright CCHS

4th February 1945

Today I am going to write a bit about the weather in England – such a rewarding subject that one is positively obliged to do so.  But I feel as if my thoughts had taken wing as a result of the spring weather and were once more setting off into Grunewald.  We have had a very cold fortnight, which was really tough:  we never stopped shivering, starting in the morning in our sleeping-bags, continuing in the dining-room right through midday, our feet particularly seemed to have turned into lumps of ice, and in the Nissen hut you were trying the whole time to get near the stove.  Then from next day, spring arrived;  we hardly felt like putting our coats on.  Which is not to say that within half-an-hour the weather couldn’t switch from brilliant sunshine to pouring rain or vice versa.  That was especially the case before the cold spell.  We would just be looking forward to getting through the next roll-call in sunshine and all of a sudden the sky would darken and we would be standing in our groups of one hundred out on the road and it would start raining and hailing;  and then we had hardly reached the safety of our huts when it was dry again outside and the sun was shining.  The nicest thing that the English weather has had to offer up to now was in the cold spell – apparently quite a rare one for here – namely fog or rather its effects on the barbed wire and trees.  Fog is as much a part of the English climate as currants are in cakes.  Frost and fog together produce unique hoar-frost patterns on every point of the wire that surrounds us; every twig was decorated with a tip, 2-3cm long, every blade of grass had a pointed cap and the clumps of trees in the distance were sculpted in frost and clad in pointy dresses like the fairies in a fairy-ta1e.  It was the first time the barbed wire had looked pretty.  And today the Tommies excelled themselves.  Cocoa and tarts for breakfast.  There was something a bit spooky about that.  Did they want to point the difference between all this and the conditions awaiting us at home?

7th February 1945

The main thing the English have to reproach us with is our militarism.  In the meantime, we have had quite a few chances to observe how the English do things.  Starting with the strict regulations on folding the blankets on the beds and placing the kit-bag under the pillow in the morning and the changing of the guard, quite in the style of “Old Fritz” [i. e. Frederick the Great of Prussia], right down to the preparations for inspection of barracks – equal to anything you would find in the Prussian army.  Whether it is the highly polished boots, the cold stoves or the dusting under the bed, you do get the feeling that you are still in the army with its not altogether appealing arrangements.

11th February 1945

…I must admit that in all my time in the army I scarcely ever felt as much at ease as I do now;  the living conditions are pretty tolerable and I can relax with my time entirely at my own disposal.  Even given our restricted conditions, there is no lack of opportunities and even if Greek and Latin grammar has to be written on paper actually intended for less elevated purposes, having had our enthusiasm for these things completely frustrated for eight years, we have no difficulty in overcoming these problems.  The time goes by so swiftly and it is so good to be able to work from morning till night.  It is only in quiet moments that the lack of contact with home begins to nag at me.  Seven months with no news from home, four months since we wrote.  It is not easy to come to terms with these feelings.

13th February 1945 – Lessons in wartime

The 4th of September last year brought the next huge change for us.  The most radical and fundamental one so far was from being a soldier to being a prisoner.  Mainly perhaps because of the element of surprise: we had never seriously considered the possibility of ending the war as a PoW in England, more likely, as I said before, of never seeing its end at all.  That is why we behaved in that ridiculously helpless way – giving my watch away instead of hiding it – almost curious to see what was about to happen to us, without having the slightest notion of how to behave in such a situation.   Having survived the first eight weeks, we settled into much more civilised conditions and to a certain extent resigned ourselves to them.  Our motto for every day was:  “Catch up with what we have missed during the last eight years”.  We did Greek, Latin, English and Business Studies with the help of books and classes;  we studied law, we had a literature course and read the relevant works to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and nourish our hearts and minds, and also a course in history to enable us to catch up and see things in a broader context.  So to a considerable extent life became normal again and we were able to get through the second major upheaval pretty well.

The third will be the future in our homeland, emerging from the sorrows of this long war.  What will it have to offer us?  That too is something we can hardly prepare ourselves for.   What sort of conditions shall we have to adapt to?  Will there be any possibility of entering a serious profession?  Will there be room for such a thing?  Will the concept of property still exist, or will it have been eradicated?  My moods are a good deal more equable now, though still subject to fluctuations.  You can’t help your thoughts gravitating towards home.  But there are happy moments as well.  For instance, the occasional ‘camp idyll’, when one of these searchlights moving around acquired a practical function.  When required, it lights one of our chaps to his job of shoe cleaning until the obligatory “O.K., done” indicates to the economically-minded Tommy that he has finished his job, his “O.K.” is answered by another from over there and the searchlight beam continues criss-crossing the camp.  Among the numerous officer corps for whose existence our camp provides the justification, there is one extremely likeable officer.  It was said that in the cell in which a few of our comrades, who had got fed up with being confined in the camp were being held, a few cigarettes had been found after an inspection by this particular officer and that a custody sergeant was put on duty outside the door, as smoking inside is forbidden and unexpected visitors tend to turn up, just when they not wanted.

14th February 1945 – Larks flying in Spring

Today marked the beginning of spring for me.  We were lined up for roll-call, the weather was marvellous, the sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, one or two white clouds were sailing across the blue sky, when two larks rose up, singing their spring song, as it appeared to me;  they hovered above, almost on the spot and seemed as if they couldn’t do enough chirruping.  Life goes on, though it seems almost heartless to say so.  Nothing can affect the eternal change of the seasons, the coming of spring as joyous and invigorating as ever, not even the most dreadful human conflict that shakes the world to its foundations and sends it up in flames;  one cannot but marvel at such indifference.

17th February 1945 – Thoughts of home

Another positively text-book spring day!  How can one resist the idea of flying across the Channel and landing in Grunewald?  How will our loved ones be able to bear it, seeing the Bolsheviks moving nearer and nearer?  How will Achi [Translator’s note:  his brother Hans-Joachim Behr] bear it, with his unshakeable confidence in our victory, seeing himself and his family now facing an uncertain future?  How will they all bear the imminent prospect of defeat?  How will they all manage?  Today saw the fall of Görlitz.  The most immediate threat now is from the south-east, following on what had seemed to be the most dangerous one, namely that from the direction of my old garrison town, Frankfurt on the Oder.  What a disaster this war has been!  A massive speculation and, as I now see it, an unsuccessful one.  As a PoW I am in a uniquely fortunate position.  But what about those at home?

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