The Winter of 1947 from a German PoW perspective

Church Cottages covered in snow

Klaus Behr was a German prisoner of war at Springhill Camp, near Campden from capture on 4th September 1944 until repatriation on 7th February 1948.  His diary was translated and transcribed in 2010/2011 by a team of volunteers.

From 26th Jan 1947 until 11th March 1947 Klaus Behr wrote about the cold and snow.  He wrote pages saying how cold they were, nowhere to get warm, the stoves hogged by a group of POWs – the ‘Stove Circle’ – so others cannot get close.  Their work details often get cancelled as the lorries cannot pick them up.  There is a heating ban until 6 at night, so he bemoans this wasted free time, because he cannot write or read comfortably anywhere.  The PoWs also often detailed to clear and shovel snow, but then there is nowhere to get warm and dry off when they return.

2nd February 1947

Springhill has turned into a Winterhill

The reading room is an icehouse and completely unsuitable for anyone to sit in, the barracks are also cold today, …. – so I shall trust in the unexpected church concert which our camp choir and orchestra are performing in Chipping Campden to shelter me from the worst of the heavy winter weather. .. our Springhill has turned into a Winterhill.   … I have racked my brains as to how, above all, I can protect my feet against the perpetual tormenting cold on the long lorry journey to Chedworth.

3rd February 1947

Snow, snow and yet more snow,

…more snow than I have ever seen in England before and it is still continuing to snow, just like one gets in picture books, thick, white snowflakes, so that one can hardly see very far at all, a beautiful sight.  But unfortunately the joy at seeing this wonder-world of nature is badly spoilt by the contraction of our PoW existence.  One cannot truly rejoice in the snow, cold and winter landscape if one does not have the possibility of escaping it.  There are no warm rooms at our disposal, no heat to get dry by, so the torments of winter gain the upper hand and enjoyment has no possibility of establishing itself:  if one gets up in the morning freezing cold and then gets even colder, goes around with soaking feet and is uncomfortable all the time, how can one be carried away by the magic of a winter wonderland?

9th February 1947

My “feet-anti-freeze secret”!

The winter continues in full force.  This much snow was thought impossible.  More than 14 days it is now.  The Englishmen think that there hasn’t been such a hard winter in 50 years; at the moment one feels like a personified icicle.  … My “feet-anti-freeze” secret comprises of an old potato sack as its outer husk and disguised within is a fake leather cushion lined with a woollen fabric for wind protection, within this again a pillowcase of tent material, in which there is a bit of waste wool for warmth and as an insulating layer against the cold ground; therein I place my feet, but to complete the “antifreeze”, they’re adorned with slippers which by themselves already keep relatively warm;  the sack I pull over the coat and have even at the end of the drive still nicely warm legs.  Though it does cost some effort to complete this procedure on a lorry stuffed with 33 men, to change my shoes and pack up my legs skilfully, but the success is worth this effort any time!  That was my triumph of the week.

24th February 1947

Sunbathing at noon

Well, I was sunbathing today at noon and was joyfully watching the water trickles snaking at my feet.  Probably never before have I been looking forward so much to the end of the snow and the cold as this winter and have gratefully greeted those small snaking water veins as the first messengers of springtime;  but for the moment the sun is only strong enough around noon to start work to carry off all those masses of accumulated snow, to transform our spring hill back to the appearance it deserves.  But yesterday it was a fantastically beautiful sight as well:  The sun shining onto the snow out of a most beautiful blue sky.  This weather simply does not let one stay indoors.  …

26th February 1947

It is in any case an acutely depressing feeling to know that one cannot escape this daily discomfort.

A heroic determination is now also needed, when leaving bed in the morning;  one knows exactly that from the moment of pushing off the blanket, one won’t be feeling so completely warm all over anymore, until pulling it over once again in the evening, and such a resolution, to start the 15 hours of freezing, is understandably not so quickly undertaken;  so every single minute gets haggled over and even the way to the wash-rooms often comes off badly there;  one really dreads the appalling freezing.  It does not actually do me a lot of honour, though it may be representative of the degree of fear of this constant freezing.  Everything would be more bearable, if one had the opportunity, to return into the warmth quickly if one wanted.  But if one knows definitely that there is no such opportunity; that once chilled to the bone, one has to remain in this uncomfortable state for the time being, one is nearly haunted by this cold like by some panicky fright, even though going by the temperature it might not be that considerable.    In the morning you get up like this and have only the different places of freezing to choose from, because of the heating ban until 6 o’clock, one does not feel anything in the reading room, nor hardly anything in the entertainment room, of the stove.  And when the permission to heat is finally there in the evening, one cannot fully make use of it, because the unavoidable stove conversation which goes with it would pain one even more then the cold heretofore.  So it happens that one is soon thankful when one of these monstrous days is over and even I have come up with the idea of escaping these impressions by crawling into bed by 8 o’clock and pulling the blanket right up over the ears, so not to see or hear anything of all the discomfort.  Oh, winter, do leave us soon, is a then constantly repeated wish!  If one only knew a date, another 8 or even 14 days, it would be more easily bearable ..

10th March 1947

I had to start my weekend last Saturday in a highly peculiar way:  We had to turn out for snow clearing and were sent up behind Stow-on-the-Wold.

11th March 1947

Hurray, it’s raining!

Never have I welcomed rain so joyfully, as I did yesterday when suddenly it resounded on the roof of the reading room:  “Hurray, it’s raining”, I would have really liked to shout!  Was it really, after all the mounds of snow and the endless cold, the first sign of spring, which this year we had looked forward to for so long!  With the rain I now welcome especially the end of the continuous discomfort, which sometimes can take hold of one so powerfully.

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