Irishman's story of 'horror' camps; William English, MN, s.s. Afric[a] Star

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by dbf, Dec 13, 2009.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Irish Times, May 17, 1945

    The experiences of thirty-two citizen of Eire, all merchant seamen, in an S.S. camp in Germany, where five of them died from starvation or typhus, were described yesterday to an "Irish Times" reporter by William English, of Arklow, one of the thirty-two, who has just arrived in Dublin after his liberation.

    He said the camp was at Bremen Farge, outside Bremen, and that the camp commandant - named Schaubecker - a month ago shot sixteen prisoners after announcing that he knew he would be shot or hanged by the Allied armies, and he "would take as many as he could with him."

    Mr English saw a naked Belgian prisoner beaten to death with rubber hose for attempting to escape. A Pole was shot in the thigh while trying to escape, and the S.S. guards rubbed salt into the wound and beat him with electric cable. He walked from the end of the camp to the hospital, but a Russian doctor, also a prisoner, was refused permission to attend him, and gangrene set in. The doctor said it would be more merciful to shoot the man. The guard did so. Next morning a French prisoner who refused information was shot.

    A Russian prisoner was thrown into the camp refuse heap and Schaubecker forced some of the muck from the heap into his throat with a wire before throwing him back on the heap. He was struck with a rifle butt on the head and killed. His body was left for three days on the heap.

    The five citizens of Eire who died in the camp were:
    W.H. KNOX, Dun Laoghaire;
    Owen CORR, of Rush, Co. Dublin;
    Gerald O'HARA, Ballina, Co. Mayo;
    Patrick BREEN, Blackwater, Co. Wexford, and
    Thomas MURPHY, of Dublin.

    Mr. English said that he was a seaman on the Blue Star liner, s.s. Africa Star, and in January, 1941, while they were bound from South America to London, they were intercepted by the German surface raider, Steinmark, which took the liner's crew aboard and then sank her. The men were taken to Bordeaux and sent to Germany to camp Stalag XB, 10B Sandbostel.

    The prisoners whose homes were in Eire were segregated and questioned by German intelligence officers and urged to work for Germany. They all refused.

    In September, 1941, about fifty Irishmen, all seamen, were taken to Marlag, Nilag Nord, another camp, and thirty-two of them were sent to Bremen Labour Exchange. They were brought to a factory and again refused to work.

    Their guards suggested to them that, being Irish, they ought to work against Britain in the war.

    They were taken to Hamburg and asked to work on German ships, but again refused, and they were returned to Bremen Farge.

    In the camp they worked 12 hours a day, mostly at carrying rail tracks. Russian girls, aged from 16 to 18, were doing the same kind of work. In Bremen Jewish girls of from 15 to 18 worked in demolition squads.

    Mr. English said that, apart from the effort to get them to work for German, the prisoners from Eire got no special treatment as citizens of a neutral State. They repeatedly wrote to Mr. Warnock when he was Eire's representative in Berlin, but received no answer and did not know if the letters had reached him. On August 18th last, Mr. C.C. Cremin, the new representative of Eire in Berlin, visited them at the camp, and their treatment improved. He made every effort to get them sent home.

    After twenty-six months they were put on a train for Flensburg, but were forced back because Allied planes had destroyed a bridge on the route, and a repatriation ship, which they had expected to meet in a Swedish port, sailed without them. They were sent to the camp at Marlag Nilag Nord, which was captured in April by a Guards armoured regiment.

    The names of the 27 men, who came out of the camp alive, are:-
    William ENGLISH and C. BYRNE, Arklow;
    Valentine HARRIS, Pearse House, Dublin;
    J.J. MOFFAT, Rosses Point;
    Bernard GOULDING, Skibbereen;
    Harry CALLAN, Derry;
    Noel J. LACEY, Howth;
    Richard FLYNN, Tramore;
    Thomas COONEY, Wexford;
    Edward CONDON, Passage West, Co. Cork;
    William KELLY and J.J. RYAN, Waterford;
    Patrick REILLY and Patrick KAVANAGH, Wicklow;
    I.C. RYAN, Tramore;
    T.C. BRYCE, formerly of Clontarf, Dublin, who lived in Australia before the war broke out;
    Thomas KING, formerly of Clifden, now living in Newcastle;
    Peter LYDON, Tralee;
    P.J. O'Brien, Armagh, now of London;
    Michael LOWRY, formerly of Galway, domiciled in Scotland;
    J. O'BRIEN, of Kinsale, living in Wales;
    James GORMAN, Clogher Head;
    P.J. O'CONNOR, Carlingford;
    Michael O'DWYER, Cork;
    Robert ROSEMAN, Bray;
    James FURLONG, Wexford, and
    William KNOTT, Ringsend, Dublin.
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Listed are results of searches made in CWGC records for the men mentioned in the article.
    N.B. All but one are buried at Rheinburg War Cemetery.

    W.H. KNOX, Dun Laoghaire
    Possible entry:
    :poppy: Able Seaman WILLIAM HUTCHISON KNOX S.S. British Commander (London), Merchant Navy who died age 59 on 02 March 1945
Son of Francis Blake Knox and Alice Knox.

    Remembered with honour RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: 5. B. 2.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Owen CORR, Rush, Co. Dublin
    :poppy: Able Seaman OWEN CORR M.V. Silver Fir (London), Merchant Navy
who died age 29 on 27 April 1944
Son of Laurence and Jane Corr, of Rush, Co. Dublin, Irish Republic.

    Remembered with honour RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: 7. D. 15.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Gerald O'HARA, Ballina, Co. Mayo
    Possible entry:
    :poppy: First Radio Officer GERALD O'HARA S.S. Devon (London), Merchant Navy who died age 50 on 15 March 1944
Husband of Jane O'Hara.

    Remembered with honour RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: 7. D. 14.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Patrick BREEN, Blackwater, Co. Wexford
    :poppy: Able Seaman PATRICK BREEN S.S. Athelfoam (Liverpool), Merchant Navy who died age 58 on 13 May 1943
    Son of Moses and Annie Breen, of Wexford, Irish Republic.
    Remembered with honour TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 11.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Thomas MURPHY, of Dublin.
    :poppy: Able Seaman THOMAS MURPHY S.S. Earlston (Newcastle-on-Tyne), Merchant Navy who died age 53 on 27 April 1944
Son of Dennis and Ellen Murphy, of Dublin, Irish Republic; husband of Ellen Murphy, of Dublin.

    Remembered with honour RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: 7. D. 13.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details
  3. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    That is an extremely powerful post and really shows mans inhumanity to his fellow man to the full.

  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    In relation to this possible cwgc entry:

    W.H. KNOX, Dun Laoghaire
    Possible entry:
    Able Seaman WILLIAM HUTCHISON KNOX S.S. British Commander (London), Merchant Navy who died age 59 on 02 March 1945
Son of Francis Blake Knox and Alice Knox.

    Remembered with honour RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: 5. B. 2.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    From The Times, Aug 29, 1940:

    From our Naval Correspondent

    On Tuesday a message was picked up by a New York wireless station, purporting to come from the steamer British Commander, reporting that she was being shelled by an unknown vessel 300 miles south of Madagascar. This report was circulated by the American news agencies. Yesterday it was adopted by the German High Command, which mentioned "the armed British tanker, British Commander" - a fairly safe guess, since practically all merchant ships which sail the seas are nowadays armed for self-defence - and stated that she had been sunk in the Indian Ocean by German naval forces.

    If the report is true, there is evidently a German raider at large in the South Indian Ocean, probably a disguised merchant vessel such as the Narvik, which was engaged by H.M. Armed Merchant Cruiser Alcantara off the island of Ilha Trinidad in the South Atlantic on July 28. It may indeed be the Narvik herself, if the damage she received in her action with the Alcantara was not too serious for her to continue her career as a raider. The two positions are some 5,500 miles apart by a route which fetches a wide compass round South Africa, such as a raider anxious to avoid observation would take, so there has been plenty of time for her to get from one to the other. But, of course, it may be another vessel of the same sort.

    In any case, there is more than one raider at large. For it was only last Friday that Mr. Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand, disclosed that another British steamer, the Turakina, was being fired on by a raider in the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia. There is nothing unexpected in that, and the appropriate measures are no doubt being taken by the Admiralty and the naval commands concerned.
  5. IrishSoldier

    IrishSoldier Member

    I am currently talking alot with a 90 year old veteran of the RA and ex-POW George Hamlet who lives close by me, I will start a seperate thread shortly, in the course of last nights chat we were talking about mates of his in the POW camps and one of the names he mentioned was gunner Bill Knox, from... Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, its too much of a coincidence that there isnt some connection here... may even be a son of the William Knox mentioned, he was 59 so its quite possible. Bill Knox survived the war and is 93 years young, still living in Dun laoghaire...
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi IrishSoldier, Very interesting indeed, I look forward to your coming thread.
    All the best,
  7. IrishSoldier

    IrishSoldier Member

    Diane, to satisfy my curiosity I'll mention this to George when I next meet him in a couple of weeks time, he will probably know if Bills father was merchant navy and POW..
    it could be another relative, in any case there must be a connection, too much of a coincidence!!
  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thanks, look forward to hearing of any further developments.
  9. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Revolting how there is people who defend this filth. Thank goodness for the haven of sanity this forum is!
  10. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    The merchant raider was "Kormoran" , same ship which later sank the light cruiser HMAS Sydney , which was located last year off the West coast of Australia.

    Africstar / Afric Star 1
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The merchant raider was "Kormoran" , same ship which later sank the light cruiser HMAS Sydney , which was located last year off the West coast of Australia.

    Africstar / Afric Star 1

    Thanks for that; strange tale of the deck boy's repatriation - over 2 yrs to get home!
    James S likes this.
  12. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    Good thread D , thank you. :)
  13. gweno86

    gweno86 Junior Member

    From The Irish Times, May 17, 1945

    This post has helped me with some family research I have been doing. My Grandad was Patrick Kavanagh so it was nice to see him mentioned (shame it was in such circumstances!) I have been told by his daughters (he went on to have 5) that when he was in the camps they carried out experimental operations on him ! He would not walk round without at least his vest on. He hardly spoke of what happened to his family as it was clearly a traumatic time & something he would not want to share with little girls.... He did tell them about times when they had to stand in the snow & if u fell you would be shot.

    Thankfully my grandad lived on for many years & I had the priviledge of knowing him x
  14. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi Gwen
    Many thanks for posting some more of your grandfather's story here. I am sure that he suffered a lot, but am glad that the post helped you with your research into his history.

    Best wishes,
  15. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    These were posted up on another forum, thought I'd add them here:


  16. Toolerc

    Toolerc Junior Member

    I'm trying to find out more about this story, can anyone help me out? Looking particularly for any accounts of the Irish men involved please.

  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hello and welcome,

    The 2nd YouTube Link above has this as contact page for Irish Seamen's Relatives Association in the (drop down) details under 'views'.
    Irish Seamen's Relatives Association (1939-46)

    I think that would be as good a place as any to try and find personal accounts.

  18. Toolerc

    Toolerc Junior Member


    thanks for the welcome!

    I've actually just been in touch with them and hoping to find out more.

    Appreciate the reply.


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