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Ian Aldous MacLean’s P.O.W. War Diary 1944


"Last week we went to visit the wonderful Juno Beach Museum on the actual beach in Normandy. I saw the Sherbrooke Fusiliers shoulder flash and I suddenly remembered the photo of my uncle, Ian Maclean in battle dress, lounging on the terrace at Fulford Place. I dug out the family archives, and sure enough Ian did his training at Brockville in 1943-4, and dropped in to see his Fulford cousins. It gave me the incentive to go through my copy of Ian’s POW diary, and transcribe it,  with some of the clippings and photos.”

So here you have it, Ian Maclean briefly visiting, in what had been his father’s home in uniform and the account of Ian’s 36 hours of D-Day, before he was taken prisoner.”

When Ian MacLean came back from being a prisoner of war, he brought with him “A Wartime Log for British Prisoners,” a leather-bound diary issued by ‘The War Prisoner’s Aid of the Y.M.C.A., at 37 Quai Wilson, Geneva Switzerland.

Once in captivity, he set down some of the essence of D-Day. His father, Lt. Col. Charles Wesley MacLean was the C.O. of the Ottawa-Carleton battalion in WWI.

Ian’s mother, Doris Thornton Aldous had enlisted as a honourary Lieutenant in Canadian Field Comforts and followed ‘the Colonel’ to London. They were married at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly in 1916. Ian was born in England in February, 1919. On D-Day 1944 he was 25. Ian had joined the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, a Canadian tank unit.

The fly leaf shows:

This book belongs to: Lieut. I. A. MacLean and is inscribed:

“Oh would I were where I would be! There would I be where I am not:

For where I am I would not be, and where I would be, I cannot.”

[Anonymous]

Contents

  • “D” Day 1
  • “D” Day +1 24
  • “In the Bag” 36
  • “The March” 39
  • “Front Stalag 221 46
  • “40 + 8 or 23 days in a box car 48
  • “Dulag” Chalons sur Mer 50
  • Box Car into das Reich 52
  • Stalag XII (Limburg) 53
  • Dulag XII (Hadamar) 54
  • Hotels Pubs & Snacks 55
  • Oflag 79 (Brunswick) 71
  • Wine Recipe 92
  • Exmas Menu 93
  • Addresses 99
  • Food Rations 101
  • Books 109

“It had finally arrived. We moved off from our assembly area in craft loads at 3.30 a.m. Sunday morning and proceeded to our port of embarkation.

As we were passing through the quiet English countryside turning grey with the first light of dawn, it was hard to believe that in a few days we would be in France on the beaches and up to our necks in war.

The loading went well and we pulled out into the basin. There were thousands of craft all around us going into the hards, loading and (p.2) finally moving out to their positions in their different flotillas. The early part of Sunday was spent in getting acquainted with the skipper and crew, finding a place to make our beds and generally getting organised. On my craft was Major Cave, Lt. MacArthur, Captain Grey of the N.N.S.[1] and one other Lt. from the same unit.

We spent the rest of the day watching the L.C.T.’s, L.C.I.’s and many other craft moving around. As yet we didn’t know the names of places or the exact spot at which we were going to land in France.

The order would be given to open our true maps as soon as the operation was positively on. That night we played poker in the cabin and had a few rums. It was pretty rough outside and we were a little worried (p.3) as to whether the “op” would be on. As we thought it was postponed 24 hours due to weather.

That morning, Monday 5F “No. One”, rowed over to another craft in our flotilla because I wanted to see the skipper, an old friend of mine from a former ‘scheme’. The Baron was in good form and we tossed off a number of rums and talked over old times, he gave me a few addresses to look up in Paris.

Colonel Petch was also on board. I chatted with him for a while and then it came time to leave. The sea was still rough and the wind if anything has risen.

We arrived back at our own craft in time to find that It was on. We were moving off at 2 p.m.

The maps were got out and we were told where we were going to land.

“TEXAS” became Caen and (p.4) “FLORIDA” became Berniere sur Mer and so the bogus maps were cleared up.

We fell into position in our flotilla and moved off about 2.30 p.m. We could see that it was going to be rough when we left the Solent so all last minute jobs had to be done to our tanks.

Rumour had that the King was inspecting the fleet but unfortunately we did not see him.

As soon as we passed the Needles and were fast leaving the Isle of Wight behind the sea hit us and believe me it was rough, the spray was breaking over the decks and soaking everything. Major Cave became very ill and so did everyone else including a good many of the crew. But yours truly somehow managed to survive, so (page 5) I had the job of giving last minute orders etc. I gathered the troops together on the lee side and in a very loud voice in order that everybody could hear over the noise of the wind, I read the messages of Gen. Eisenhower, Montgomery and the C.O.

The men were in good spirits considering all. That night I spent either in the cabin going over my maps or else on the bridge with the skipper.

About 1.30 a.m. found us 20 miles off the coast of France. I could see flashes to the south west and East and could picture the airborne troops having a pretty rough time. All the way across we followed a marked channel, the mine sweepers were certainly doing their job. It was still very rough and we passed quite a few craft that had to drop out due to engine trouble. Dawn started to break so I joined the skipper on the bridge. We could see our flotilla stretched out behind us and on our left and right, other flotillas pounding away against the waves.

Our first lot of planes passed overhead, medium bombers and fighters, by this time we were about 12 miles off the beaches.

H hour was drawing near and I was starting to feel pretty excited. We could not see very well (p.7) due to mist and cloud but finally we were close enough to see the assault craft going in, they looked very small in the rough sea.

I could hear the roar of the assault guns and see the smoke, it was starting to get clearer now and we could make out the church spires on the coast. Our flotilla started to circle with the others awaiting our turn to go in. We were surrounded by an inner ring of destroyers and an outer ring of cruisers and battle wagons. Not a Hun aircraft in sight but plenty of our own were continuously (p.8) passing overhead. By then it was 8.00 a.m., the boys were on the beaches, in one hour we should touchdown.

Major Cave was still feeling sick so Capt. Grey of the N.N.S. took the church service on the after deck, we all stood with our heads bare trying to sing a hymn against the wind. At last the order to “touchdown” we jumped into our tanks and for a second or two the craft was a cloud of smoke as the engines turned over.

Now we were heading towards shore, I could see through my binoculars the church spire of Berniere sur Mer. We were supposed to land just to the right of it. I swept the beach with my glasses from the left to right. I could see the houses burning, (page 9) and terrific explosions on shore, a lot of the craft had never made the beaches or if they had were burning brightly, smoke was billowing up from behind Courseilles.

We were getting closer now and I could make out figures on the beach and various odds and sods of assault vehicles.

I picked out the gap in the defences I thought we would probably use, on the left of it, I could see a White Ensign flying, I supposed it belonged to the first craft to touch down. A destroyer was firing salvos now, on our left I heard the shells, moaning inshore (p.10) like express trains. There was shell firing and explosions on the beach on our left, they were having a tough job there. We could see the flash of small arms fire from the upper windows of the houses lining the beach. We were only about 500 yards from our beach now and the flotilla was coming into line to touchdown. There was the last minute wavings and shouts to one another as the crew prepared to lower the ramp. I was in the bow, first off so I searched the beach ahead pretty thoroughly. I could see that the sand was soft and the trucks were having (p.11) a bit of trouble. In fact the beach was rapidly becoming congested due to the small exit. I looked at the town to see if we had cleared it, as far as I could see it was all clear.

photo: the beach at Berniere sur Mer on D-Day

I could see some civilians standing on the streets.

We made our way through the underwater defences and hit the beach full out. The craft on our right grounded simultaneously. The one on our left had a spot of trouble on an explosive obstacle but she managed to lower her ramp. Our own ramp was going down now, had about a 30 yd run (p.12) through water about 3 1/2 feet deep to the beach, I could see the other tanks from the flanking crafts nosing off into the water as I gave “driver advance”.

As we came into shallow water we blew our water proofing and all along the beach I could see our tanks exploding with a loud bang or so it seemed, but it was only the fabric being blown off. I pulled up onto the beach in line behind the other tanks. It was slow moving, in fact I could see vehicles halted ahead of us all (p.13) the way up to the exit, we would be there for 5 or 10 minutes - time to clean off the excess waterproofing and check the turret traverse. I saw our wounded being loaded onto the empty craft on their way back to Blighty, also I saw my first “Gerry” being marched down to the beach, there were about 6 of them, with their hands in the air.

I remember thinking to myself that it seemed just like a film. Craft were landing vehicles in a steady stream now and some were waiting in the water to come in. (p.14) The line ahead started to move slowly. In the next minute I was thrilled to see Charles MacLean[2] walking along the beach, he had landed at H + 20 and I was a little worried about him, but he was fit as a fiddle and quite excited. We just had time to exchange handshakes and wish each other good luck, as the tanks were moving again. We moved off the beaches and into the town and it looked as I had imagined from the aerial photos but of course it was badly damaged, none the less the civilians (p.15) were standing in front of their houses some waving and cheering others dazed looking at us with their mouths open. We moved through the town very slowly, starting and stopping, finally we halted things were not going as well as expected evidently our troops were held up just outside the town and since we were supposed to go to our assembly area and form up before passing through the advanced brigades we had to wait in the town. We were there for about 2 hours, by this time it was about 1 p.m. we should have been in our assembly area.

I had a chance to talk (p.16) to a few of the civilians and watch some of the activity around us. I saw a carrier with 3 men on it start out across a field and hit a mine it flew in the air and turned over. Next I saw a lone Gerry plane come scooting over with 2 spits on its tail, they very soon made short work of it, 2 chutes opened as the plane came down in flames[3].

At last we started to move off on the outskirts of the town. We could see the signs of an “88”. 3 tanks in a field on our left were burning[4]. We advanced up the road towards our assembly area which was about 3 miles, on the way we passed (p. 17) a good number of prisoners being brought back. Also we saw the “88” that had been causing the trouble. When I arrived at the assembling area most of our squadron had been there before me. They were all a little shaken it seems they had been under mortar fire for a little while and there were a few casualties.

I got my troop together in preparation for the advance, from now on we would be crossing virgin territory. Our regiment with the N.N.S. was to pass through the other two brigades and advance about ten miles to the airport of Capriquet which we were to hold against counter attacks.

The axis of our advance was the main road to the airport, and we started (p. 18) off from our assembly area about 4 p.m. in the following order of march: The Recce troop vanguard of the assault coy. N.N.S. in carriers, advancing on the left of the main road was B Sqdrn with B Coy. N.N.S. and on the right A Sqdrn with A Coy. Following that on the centre line was the Command group consisting of Regt. H.Q.s of our outfit and N.N.S. plus O Pips etc. Finally came our own Sqdrn ldr with D coy. on our tanks.

Spaffs troop was leading and I followed him. Spot Boyd had gone up ahead with his troop to act protection for the Command group. Naturally following along in the rear like we were was slow and not very exciting. None the less we knew our turn was coming and by the sounds of things coming over the air from P & B Sqdrn it wasn’t all milk and honey.

We were advancing fairly well now and had covered about six miles, prisoners were coming back in big numbers. Jack Casey had been killed by mortar fire and I believe A Sqn had been having quite a job clearing out mortars and the guns and the snipers. It was getting quite dark now and we still hadn’t reached the airport, it looked as though we wouldn’t that (p. 20) night. As it became dark we could see the signs of our advance, haystacks burning the odd vehicle and barn. Behind the beach head they were having a field day with their ack-ack, quite few Gerry planes came scooting over our heads with their tails between their legs thinking better of raiding the beach head.

It was pitch dark now and we were still advancing, how the sqns on our flanks could see anything beats me and besides that tank warfare at night is not very healthy. We had a spot of excitement. Evidently a Gerry section (p.21) or half had been lying in hiding, and seeing our tanks silhouetted against the glow behind us, with troops on our own backs opened up with an M.G. 42 + small arms.

The infantry on my troop de-bussed immediately and my Sgt and I who had seen the flash from their position raked it with M.G. fire and after lining up on it with the trace from the M.G.’s, I told him to put an H.E. into the spot for luck. After that we had no more trouble until we reached our laager area. We knew it was somewhere up ahead, but (p. 22) if one can imagine the confusion of tanks and infantry forming a laager position not pre-arranged and in pitch darkness with Gerry patrols opening up all round us. Needless to say, there was no sleep for us that night.

After much shifting and searching around we finally took up a fairly decent all round defence. Most of us picked the open ploughed fields in preference to the long grass. Less chance of a beehive being attached to my baby and blowing us up. I had to get out of my tank to go to an O Grp at the Sqdrn H.Q., but when only half-way there a Spandau opened up (p. 23) and I made a dive for the nearest tank. Spaff was also taking cover there and we decided it would be very unhealthy to proceed any further. He told me we had been cut off from Rode by Gerry Paratroops dropping in behind us, and that it would be awhile before we had any reinforcements. I crawled back to my tank and climbed in through the driver’s hatch. I didn’t relish being silhouetted as I climbed into the turret. The infantry had dug in now all around us and we settled down to a long a sleepless night.

I realised for the first time that none of us had eaten so Willie Redmond opened up some bully beef and made sandwiches. I had Thistle with his head out (p.24) the turret and a Bren in his hand on the look-out. We took turns at this all night.

D-Day +1

At dawn two Gerry planes came streaking over and I had a bit of fun with it using my 50 caliber Browning. One amusing incident before we moved off. All the tanks were lined up ready to advance when all of a sudden a British carrier comes careering down the road towards us from the Hun lines. Some of us nearly opened up on it thinking it might be a trick. But no it seems that the night before a carrier of the N.N.S. was captured, but during the night it wasn’t very well guarded, so that the crew (p.23) not content with making for their own lines by foot, took the carrier plus two Gerry prisoners.

At about 7.30 we started our advance again in the same order. The Hun had already started to mortar our position so I wasn’t sorry to move. We had been going about 20 minutes when things ahead stopped, and we gathered that the going was pretty tough. The Regt. H.Q. was under fire from m.g. and snipers although it was following behind other two sqns. Gerry had infiltrated our position during the night. The C.O. called our sqn. for a troop to act as protection and since I was leading our (p.26) sqn. the job became mine. This meant we had to go like hell up the road passing the other columns and find Regt. H.Q.

I went through a small town on the far edge of which the road came out in a rise of ground, when I reached this spot I could see the picture pretty well before me. There was a large open field stretching about a mile ahead of me to the town of Villons les Buisson. I spotted Regt. H.Q. taking cover behind a copse.

The C.O. saw me as I came up and told me to sweep the field up to the town. We started off two up advancing slowly. Ahead I could see B Sqn. pounding away at a far crest and a town. We cleaned about 50 Gerries out of the field. By this time I was up with B Sqn. Mortar and artillery (p.27) fire was coming down pretty heavily in this area and one couldn’t stay in the spot too long. The order came through to shoot out all the church spires as they were being used for O.P. so I had a bit of sport picking off the spires of churches in the surrounding villages. In the meantime B Sqn. was suffering pretty heavy casualties. Hank Treholm was killed and Major Mann wounded and Stevens badly burned. I saw him being brought back by two chaps in his crew, he was stark naked his clothes and hair being burnt off. This shook me quite a lot I might add. By now I could see that this little show was not just a pocket of resistance, but developing into quite a battle. C Sqn. had come up (p. 28) and I could hear the C.O. giving orders to Bud to help out B. Sqn. I was waiting for C Sqn. to catch up in order to take up my old position again when the C.O. called me and told me to go and assist the assault by the N.N.S. in clearing the town of Buisson.

So off I went, I quite enjoyed the idea of being on my own although I was a wee bit to the fore so to speak. As I entered Buisson I saw Major Learnient who told me there were snipers in a few houses and a couple of tanks on the other side of the town. I also came across Gordie Kraus who was O.C. Recce Troop, he was on foot having lost all his 11 tanks including his own. We cleared the town all right (p.29) by systematically knocking the houses of resistance down story by story. Having completed this job I called up the C.O. to ask for orders, giving him our position and the report, he said “Good Work Mac, you may as well go on to the next town with them. Report to me if you spot any tanks.” This shook me a little I must say but as the old saying goes ‘orders is orders’. I got out of my tank and walked up the street to take a look at what was between us and the next town. Buron was its name and since I believe become quite famous. It was about 2000 yds down a straight open road. I searched the road and town pretty well but couldn’t see very much (p.30) in the way of resistance so I decided to advance with my troop. As we came out of the edge of Buisson, M.G.s opened up on from hedges round about which was just what we wanted. We opened up on the three positions right away moving into the open slowly in a one up formation.

There were some snipers popping away at our turrets which made it petty uncomfortable and one had to keep ones head down. I told Sgt Reid to advance quickly down the road to a hedge about 200 yards away, the corporal and myself covering him. In this way we crossed the open ground towards Buron. The assault coy following us in carriers. We pounded the walls of most of (p.31) the houses on the outer edge of the town in order to clear any snipers that might be waiting for the infantry. Since there was a road block in the main street of the town I decided to pass on either flank, letting the infantry clear it while we watched the side streets and the surrounding country.

Behind me and to the left I could see B Sqn. still banging away and at the same time advancing toward me, that gave me the necessary courage to keep going up to the crest on the far side of Buron. It seemed fairly safe since we were all in the open and so far no sign of the guns, but I learnt later I was wrong. I spotted a Mark IV trying to make (p.32) a get away from Buron and the gunner put his first round right through it and it started to brew up immediately.

This also gave me Scotch courage so off we went hell bent for the ridge. I could see an S.P. gun just sticking out from behind a barn, I warned Sgt. Reid but too late, I saw it fire just as I did and Sgt. Reid was hit, the S.P. was hit also. I started up to Sgt. Reid’s tank, I could see B Sqn. and part of C coming up fast now so I decided to go on up the ridge. We had been going pretty steadily in the last two hours using up a lot of ammo (p.33) and everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves although it was bloody hot and I was terribly thirsty.

We hadn’t gone more than 200 yards from where I saw the S.P. when I felt a terrific shock and twanging away in my ears. In a daze I realised we had been hit also. I could feel heat luring up through the turret so believe me we didn’t waste any time in bailing out. I don’t know how I got out of the turret but I found myself on the ground about 10 yes from my tank which was brewing up fast. Thistle and Steers joined me (p. 34) and I asked them about Readmond. Steers said he was ok, had got out the front. Steers pants had been burning and so had mine. I looked unto see where Cpl Quinn was and unfortunately he was in the same spot as myself. Luckily we were in long grass so we could crawl fairly safely. I took a look at our position. We were about 1 1/2 miles from Buron and our troops. By this time my tank was blazing like a furnace and the ammo was starting to explode, so decided to move off towards (p.35) Buron crawling on our bellies. After crawling for about five minutes we stopped for a breather and to take stock of our position. Thistle and Steer were with me, Redmond had gone off in another direction. We had no weapons, my pistol had fallen out of my holster when I jumped. There was firing going on all around us and I figured it would be very unhealthy to try and look around so we started off crawling in the general direction of Buron. It was very uncomfortable since our own troops were shelling all around us and Gerry was shooting back.

We decided not to head directly towards the town but swing to the right a little and (p.36) lessen the chances of getting shot at by our own troops. After crawling for about an hour we stopped again for a breather. There seemed to be a lull in the shooting so I risked sticking my head up and believe me I got quite a shock. Coming towards us from behind were hundreds of Gerries sweeping through the fields to counter attack Buron.

I knew then the game was up. One of them spotted me as soon as I saw them and yelled. The three of us stood up and that was that.”

Epilogue

Ian MacLean goes on the recount as to how he was taken with his crew and 75 odd soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and then as ‘guests’ of the 21st Adolf Hitler Panzer Division marched back to Caen. On June 9th they started the 6-day march to the ‘front stalag’ at Rennes near Falaise (210 kms). He sets out the grim reality, little or no food, strafing by Allied planes but cheered by the warm support of the local populace and then the long slow route through various holding areas… the ‘Dulag’ at Chalons, Stalag XII A at Limburg, Dulag XII B at Hadamar.

The diary is filled with lists that revolve around food and restaurants. The POWs were seriously undernourished even when the first Red Cross parcels arrived.

At p. 70 its: “Boxcars Again!” and by October 5th at Oflag 79. Feb 14th was notable as the food parcels had run out.

 

 

“March 18th Morna’s birthday and a truckload of parcels came in…”

There are pages of recipes of much loved food from peace time, lists of cheeses and at p. 89 bridge scores with tricks won.

The diary has pages of names and addresses around the Commonwealth of fellow POWs, and at p.102 a detailed chart of how their German rations were reduced and an example of how the Canadian and English Red Cross parcels were crucial to survival.

Note from his son Douglas, “He did attempt to escape, was wounded in the ankle, and spent the rest of the war in captivity.”

Ian was finally re-patriated after the war, severely ill with malnutrition and on crutches, much to the joy of his family. I think our grandmother, Doris, was very relieved. In WWI Doris had agonized over her brothers, five of whom enlisted and the one whom was captured and endured similar torments as a German prisoner of war.

Uncle Ian died in 1958. He lost his life trying to rescue a man who had fallen through the ice on the Lake of Two Mountains, east of Montreal. Ian was an experienced skin diver and was called upon to see if the man could be recovered. He left his wife Barbara née Konantz and our three cousins, Gordon, Douglas and Sandi. Sherbrooke Street in Montreal came to a halt for the grand military funeral.

By Chas MacLean Cochand, Brook Farm, Blissford, UK

Chas Cochand was born in Montreal and raised in the Laurentians at his family's ski resort Chalet Cochand. At 14, he went off to school in Switzerland but returned to the University of Western Ontario in London, ON for a degree in English & History. He attended the Inns of Court School of Law, London UK,  was called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1978 and has been practicing criminal law in England ever since. He lives with his wife Judy and three adult sons in the New Forest, Hampshire, U.K., but comes home every summer for a month at Judy's family cottage on Lake Simcoe.  For the past four years Chas has written for TI Life.  You can see his articles here.

[The author wishes to thank his cousin, Rufus Gilday, who generously provided his copy of Ian Aldous MacLean’s war diary.]

 


[1] North Nova Scotia Highlanders

[2] “Chips” MacLean, later Sir Charles and subsequently Lord MacLean; was to become the chief of the Clan MacLean. He and his father Sir Fitzroy were friends. “Chips” was godfather to Ian’s son Douglas.

[3] Ian probably knew that his brother in law, Louis Emile Cochand was also in England with 442 Squadron of the R.C.A.F, having been re-trained on Spitfire 9s for D-Day. Louis was recommended a D.F.C. and awarded a Croix de Guerre for his ability and courage in ground support on D-Day and days following.

[4] the ’88’ was a particularly effective Wehrmacht field gun, devastating to the lightly armoured Allied tanks.

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Comments

Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine ( )
Left at: 1:48 PM Saturday, November 15, 2014
This brings to life, not only the Canadian cemetery we visited in Normandy in March, but some sense of what greeted my father on D plus 3 because he would never talk about it. His service in France lasted only a day or two before a piece of shrapnel whistled completely through his neck, barely missing his spine. Fortunate not only for him, but also me, as I hadn't yet been conceived. Thanks Chas for a fascinating glimpse through your uncle's eyes.
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle
Left at: 3:38 PM Sunday, November 16, 2014
The Nazi POW camps were brutal.As a Historian,I have read many accounts of POW's.
S. Edwards
Comment by: S. Edwards
Left at: 5:25 PM Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Might that not have been Lieut. MacLean's cousin, Charles MacLean of Montreal, one of three 17th RCH officers directing beach traffic at Bernieres-sur-Mer June 6th?

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