A Canadian soldier captured at Dieppe in 1942 tells what happened next. From A Metis Man Goes to War. Published by Comever - De Rameau in 2014.
Note: See Paul DeLorme in "War Story" on the History Network here.
The train was marked with a red cross painted on the roof. We arrived at night at another hospital called Gloster Haina, where I met two more Canadians from another company, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Woodcock, from Woodstock, Ontario, but no one from the SSR. Both were officers. I was there for eleven months.
I had surgery and electric treatment on my wounded arm. My doctor was called Dr. Barling, from Australia. During that time through the Red Cross, I learned that my wife Jessie had been delivered of a son, Paul Victor, on January 21st, 1943. I was then moved to Stalag IX C. I was shackled along with twenty-eight other Canadians. For a couple of months, I was not happy. There were police dogs on the loose each night in the compound area. This was a big camp. Each time when you wanted to go to the toilet, the dogs would chase you up to the door. Some time guys would not quite make it and would get their trousers ruined. I decided to volunteer for the work crew. My first job was with a small gang working in the salt mine. There were about twenty men in the camp, two shifts per day, 8 to 4 pm and 4 to 12 pm. The gang included a couple of Canadian sergeants and corporals too. They were from Winnipeg.
The food was much better here than at IX C. I worked there for most of the summer. I escaped from this camp after a night shift work. I had met a Frenchman in the salt job who was much freer as he was living in the village. He provided me with a compass and small maps of the area. However, George (an Englishman, a Geordie) and I did not make it as per instructions. After the fourth day I lost my partner. He did not seem very interested in carrying on. It was chilly and wet. We were walking through heavy bush. We walked into a German man who called us to stop. I noticed he picked up a stick to swing at us. I was not prepared to stop for a swinging stick. I started to run and George was running behind me or so I thought. But after ten minutes or so I ran around a big tree and looked back. I could not see George or the German, so I kept running. Then I stopped, lay down and waited. Soon it got dark. And I never looked back. I kept walking through the heavy bushes for miles. By 5 am I lay down near the open countryside, covered myself with leaves for the day. I had a couple of hard biscuits, a vitamin tablet, and a drink of water. I went to sleep. The next night I started to walk through a village main street. A few people were walking so I said “Heil Hitler.” They said “Heil Hitler” back. Some German soldiers were also in the village standing with their girlfriends. Soon I was out of the village walking in the dark for hours without meeting anyone. Just before daylight I found a bush-like area to hide for the rest of the day. A lot of people were around working the farms, mostly women. Again by night I was off walking, hoping I would get to the French border. I remember crossing a small river bridge. It was so dark. I just walked slowly and softly while listening for anyone on the bridge, such as a German on the watch. But I managed to cross it with no problem. Checking on my compass, I was still walking west on the German roads. I was now six days on the loose. I slept in wheat and hay fields, eating vegetables along the route. I kept my hardtacks, vitamins and water as long as I could. I was able to get water from pipes in the farm fields. I knew I was getting near some big city for could hear big guns shooting in the dark at planes overhead. But there were no bombs to hear on this night. I kept walking westward staying mostly to the fields. I had on prisoner overalls, which got to be rough and ragged looking. It was a good job I had extra underclothes, which I had put on when I went to work the previous week. I also had extra winter socks, which I changed each day because my feet would get wet walking across fields. To this day I don’t know how far I walked westward. I would stop in the morning for a sleep on open country farm fields. One day when l got up a man on horseback approached me and took me prisoner again. l was marched to a house where they spoke French. Then another man on horseback appeared. They talked to me in German. I was left there in the house with this one man to look after me until German soldiers could come and pick me up and take me to their camp. This man had a small handgun on my back. He was trembling. I was just as shaky as he was, as he could have shot me as I was standing there with my face and hands up the wall. He asked if I was a soldier. I said, “Yes, a Canadian.” As soon as I said that he relaxed and started to talk to me in French. Now we were both happy. He put his revolver down and made me a lunch, while keeping watch for the Germans to come and pick me up. Four German soldiers in a truck came along about half an hour later. They made me sit in the centre of the truck. A soldier sat in each corner of the truck box. We drove for hours to Hanover. I was kept there in a camp for three weeks with prisoners from the Ukraine and the USSR. Finally one guard came from Camp IX C and took me back there.
The German commandant sent me out to work for ten hours a day in another salt mine. Instead of being down in the mine, I worked on top in a big shed shovelling salt downwards from the deposit pipe, ensuring that it did not get plugged up. This was okay for me as I was out in the fresh air. After four weeks I was put to fire a steam engine in the yard that was hauling in the salt to main line railway. This was okay too because l gained a lot of experience with steam engines. Again, l ran away but this time I didn’t get too far. I was picked up after a couple of days and nights out because this area did not have enough bushes to hide in and l was seen walking just before daylight into a little bush. This time l was taken to the local German commandant. He was an old soldier and he could speak English. He said they were waiting for me to appear. He said that escaping was no longer a sport and pulled out a bullet. He told me that next time whoever escaped better get home or they would get the bullet. He ordered me on top of a box about eighteen inches high and had one of the soldiers cut off my curly black hair, in front of all the POWs.
After that I was taken to a different camp. It was a stone quarry. There I worked ten hours a day and must have loaded ten tons of rocks each day. I was there about three months. While I was there two Canadians were shot near the camp. Both came from Winnipeg. The Germans knew these two were planning to escape, because they checked us out before going to work and found that these two men each had extra packs of food on them. The Germans simply put extra soldiers in the bushes that surrounded the stone quarry. While coming back to camp after work the two took off for the bushes. It was only a few minutes before shots rang out. The two had been killed in cold blood. One of the men had been shot through the palm of his hand and through the neck, which proves that he had given up and still they shot him. We buried these two men next day rolled in black tar paper at the bottom of the stone quarry. I had a picture given to me by the German to show that they had paid their respects by standing before the burial, shooting up in the air as a salute.
From this camp I was moved to another salt mine where I worked until the end of the war. We were all Canadians in this camp except for one Pole in a German uniform, plus three German guards and a German corporal. We had a Canadian interpreter in charge of our Red Cross food boxes. We knew something was happening when the Germans did not want us to go to work anymore. Next thing we knew all the Germans had left the camp with all their belongings and the gate was open. OnIy the Pole and his gun remained. We could hear gunshots in the distance, so the Pole ordered us to go into the underground shelter. There were about fifteen or twenty of us. We used to do our own guard while the Pole got his sleep. We had only been in the shelter for two nights when a group of German officers came along and told the Pole that we should move out quickly. We had used most of the perishable food and flour while in the shelter but we packed all the canned foods in our packsacks and started walking westward. During our eight days, we ran out of food. We walked mostly during the night. The Pole was just as scared as we were in case the Russians caught up with him in a German uniform. There was an air battle going on and we were shot at while going along the roads. We would all scatter off the roadside into the bushes until the planes had passed over then we would continue walking. We could see bullet holes in the dirt road. We came upon an abandoned German truck. It was full of bullet holes and half burned. I looked inside and found some brown bread. The men soon cleaned it out. We kept walking, until we came near to a small village. We all hid in the hills near this village. There were many planes lying about. Some of the men were using mirrors to flash at the planes, which they said were English planes. Anyway, we stayed on this hill for a couple of days. It was cold and about three inches of snow fell. I went running and jumping down the hill to get water. Suddenly I came upon two German soldiers sleeping just below a cliff. I sure got frightened plus I frightened the two soldiers also. They put their hands up and I grabbed the German soldier’s rifle. It was empty so I threw it aside. They were obviously no threat to us and they were starving. So I coaxed them to come with me up the hill for we still had bread and tea. We made tea and coffee over a fire in the bush. The two Germans were happy to meet the Pole and they had long talks together. They also stayed with us overnight. One of the German soldiers looked very sick and got really sick by the next day. The Germans went to a farmhouse to get help, but it was too late and the soldier died. His partner stayed at the farm. We knew now that the Germans were on the run.
By that afternoon, a white flag was flying in the village. We entered the village and slept in the schoolhouse. While we were looking for food in a store, a German soldier suddenly jumped out of a barrel and ran out the door. He was just a kid. The villagers told our guard, the Germans had ended the war and the Americans had arrived in the village. We were all taken prisoner by the Americans, until we had properly identified ourselves. Our poor Pole was taken away to a US POW camp and we did not see him again. We stayed in the village for a day and a half before a US truck took us to a camp where we all stayed overnight. We were free to do what we wanted, and we got new clothing, American uniforms. The next day the Americans drove thirty of us to an army airport, where we met up with another group of fifteen Canadian and English soldiers who had been walking too. We boarded a big American bomber and flew from Germany to Belgium. The plane landed on its belly as we touched down, but the pilot was able to control it and take off again, making a circle around before finally landing properly with the wheels down. In Belgium we met some English soldiers who wanted us to go to their camp. I remember a few Canadians went along but I refused and instead went into a hotel in Brussels. There I was welcomed and stayed free. The manager said free food, drinks and hotel for any Canadian that wished to stay. The English sergeant wanted me to go with them and told me that I would get court-martialled if I disobeyed his orders. I told him that I was sorry, but the war was over and I was staying in the hotel. So he walked off and I never saw him again nor did I hear anything about his threat. The next day I left the hotel well rested, after a good sleep in white sheets, a bath, and a good meal… the works! I walked to where I saw a Canadian flag flying. It was the Canadian paymaster’s quarters. A young man said, “What can I do for you?” I told him I needed to be paid for two and a half years. I should have some money in my account. “You must be in the wrong place, sir,” he said, because I was wearing an American uniform. I looked at him and said, “Milt Berdahl, Paul DeLorme.” We both had a good laugh. Milt and I had first met at assault training in England. Milt never forgot that day. Fifty years later, he would still mention to the guys about me asking for one hundred dollars. (Poor Milt, he was about four years younger than me and he died in 1995.) He did not go to Dieppe because he was too young. He got on a ship and it was too late to send him home so they kept him as a clerk until he came of age. Anyway, Milt paid me one hundred dollars in pounds sterling. I had a haircut and a manicure and went back to the hotel to pick up my packsack. Our group of thirty who had been in the POW camp finally was back together again. We were taken to the same old bomber. Its pilot was a Canadian officer. After we were all loaded, the ground sergeant told the pilot that the plane was not safe to fly because it had a flat rear tire. But the pilot said he had been flying it like that for a few days already. The sergeant said he had warned him about it. The pilot said, “Okay, we will be off. You can fix it after our return.” The pilot ordered us all to sit near the front to make things lighter for the back end. We had to sit on our canvas back-packs on the floorboards, as this plane had no seats at all. We finally landed at Aldershot, a Canadian camp in England. The Canadian army officials had us all form up in three groups for fumigation and interrogation. Some of the men were later taken away by the military police for collaborating with the Germans, so we heard. The rest of us had to take our clothes off and to be fumigated, which took about an hour. We were loaded onto trucks and driven away. After about a half hour, a motorcycle came along from the airport and stopped our convoy. We were all taken back to the airport and interrogated. They wanted to know about the plane we came on. It had taken off from Aldershot with a crew of six officers destined for Brussels. Fifteen minutes after take-off, the plane had crashed and exploded with all personnel killed. After our reports to the officials, we proceeded to our camp. We had to get checked in again and to different quarters. Some English got taken to their own camps and other soldiers to different units. We were issued with Canadian uniforms. We were not allowed to wear American uniforms. We all received thirty-day leaves and passes to travel. Jessie, my wife, was teaching school at Cleveland Road, Ilford, and my son, young Paulie, was at his grandparents’, Mr. and Mrs. Mack at the Villa, Haynford, Norwich, Norfolk, England. I took a train from Liverpool Street to Norwich. There we all met for the first time since August 15th, 1942. After a few days at Jessie’s parents’ place we went by train to Glasgow, Scotland, to visit a couple whom I had met when we first arrived in England in 1941. I met them when a friend, Frank Emyotte from Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, and I went to Glasgow to visit his girlfriend. These people used to write to me while I was a POW in Germany. Jessie, Paulie and l stayed in Scotland for a week. The old couple welcomed Paulie. I wish l could remember their names. They moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1947, and we never heard from them again. I made it back to camp on time. The regiment was soon destined for Canada by ship. We arrived in Regina July 12, 1945, and I was transferred from the South Saskatchewan Regiment to my original regiment, the Regina Rifles. All the remaining members of the South Saskatchewan Regiment were then discharged from the army. The SSR were the Second Division, the Regina Rifles were the Third Division. I was given leave for thirty days. So l went to Rocanville, and got a job on a farm for thirty days. I earned $100 cash for doing tractor cultivating. After returning to camp l did guard duty until November 28, 1945.