After the capitulation of France, under the terms of the decision of the Commission of WIESBADEN, in July 1940 the Captain Jean Marie Draper, Major of Metrich (SF Thionville, 167eRIF) takes the way of Oflag XB, with many other officers of various units.
According to the terms of the decision, the high command of the German Army grants the honors of the war to him and authorizes it to preserve, in captivity, its weapons and luggage.
When, for health reason, it turns over to France at the beginning of 1943, some of its documents accompany it. And, in these pages, his/her son Jacques Mercier makes some to us divide some relating to Oflag XB.
Under/Lieutenant Leon Boursat
Number 76646 in Oflag XB
Leon Boursat is officer with the 271eRI, unit of the 60eDI (7th Army ordered by General GIRAUD) stationed on the level of the SF of Flandres before his entry in Belgium, in May 1940. The 271eRI thus forms part of these units taken out of clipper by the Germans, between Belgium and Dunkirk, and whose survivors are among the first prisoners of war.
Leon Boursat will be released only in 1945 and will return to France with documents and objects that its grand-daughter Coralie Aublanc Burlot presents to us in this file.
S/Lt joined the oflag after a short passage in stalag.
The typist script of 12 pages, whose extracts are presented to you in this document (in bold characters, Italic, located by “DS”), was written neither by the Captain Draper nor by S/Lt Boursat. It is of unknown origin (unknown of the son of the Captain, which holds it in its personal records). It was written by a captive officer between on May 29th, 1940 and on January 1st, 1941. This last writing this text intended for families of captive officers. We will regard this document as a rough testimony and will not thus make any comment as for the value judgments which mark out it and which could be prone to polemics. (ER Cima)
Oflag XB: general information
Drawing of “Tiburse” (June 6th, 40) showing that the relief bordering the camp is, at the very least, little victim.
DS. Oflag XB is located in Germany of North, in the province of Hanover, east of the Town of Nienburg on Weser, built on the edges of Weser, the river which comes beyond Cassel and which is thrown after Bremen, in the North Sea. This city is with 50km of Hanover, 60km of Bremen, 120km of Hamburg, 300km of Berlin. No the danger of bombardments.
While coming from the station (Hanover line in Bremen) one leaves the city on the right. At the end of 10 minutes of walk, after having circumvented the buildings of the barracks, one arrives at the camp
It is installed in full shift, on a ground sandy, flat, without horizon, at most, in the east, a light eminence makes dark task with its forest.
The neighborhoods of the camp are wet, almost marshy by place, subjected to the maritime mode. The camp is often beaten by the wind. There is not a long time it was a true storm which made fly and fall to ground the roof rather heavy from a WC external and the site offices of the sentinels. The summer it raises large sand clouds.
The rainwater runs out slowly, formant of large ponds around the huts, providing the artists with the camp prone to beautiful tables of reflections. The officers have shoes, that does not obstruct them.
The camp General provisions
DS. The camp approximately forms a square of 300m on side. It is surrounded by a double line of barbed wires (high 2,5m) with, enters, of the chevaux-de-frise. So that one does not approach the network, a wire tended to the strong current of the ground, with 4m of the barbed wires, delimits what is called “No man' S Land”, ground bandages where the prisoners should not put the foot, if not one draws.
With each corner of the square and in the middle of with dimensions ones, there is a square tower out of wood frame, dominating the network. They are the “Watchtowers” where the “postens are held” (sentinels) of guard, with armed rifle, machine-guns, projectors. The night, of many flashlights light the thorny line.
On the western face the door opens, close to the guardroom and to a watchtower. All those which penetrate or leave must show white leg with the sentinel bayonet with the gun.
Passed the door one also penetrates in an enclosure rather large, encircled him not of the barbed wires and reserved at the hospital, the infirmary, the showers and the prison. The prisoners there only will not use of these services.
The grounds surrounding the buildings were put at the disposal of officers for the gardening and the breeding of rabbits.
After having crossed a second gate kept by a second sentinel, here in front of you the large alley of the dustbins, finished by a roundabout. This alley divides the camp into two. On the left the numbered huts from 1 to 7 are aligned; on the right that numbered from 8 to 11, with, moreover, the canteen, refectories on both sides of the kitchen behind which one built the “new hut”, that where the parcels are distributed.
Behind huts 3 to 7 a sandy space called extends “the beach”. For the walk, one makes the turn of the camp, going along the barbed wires, at the edge of “No man' S Land”. It is the track on which one turns, one swivels.
There are 11 huts (block) sheltering the prisoners (from 250 to 300 prisoners each one). Hut 8 is reserved for the ordinances. The senior officers are in huts 9 and 10.
Huts 1 to 6 are built out of bricks, the others out of wood. The floors are on pile; all are hot; those of north a little wet. They are divided by a median corridor on which two lines of rooms of various sizes open (4 small rooms about the middle for 2 to 6 officers). At the entry the parts reserved for the wash-hand basins are, with the WC for the night, the wash-house. Two windows make the luminous and ventilated rooms. As of fallen the night, the shutters are closed.
A space from 20 to 30 meters separates the huts. The driers there were installed. In front of the huts runs a gravel path connected to the alley of the dustbins paved: it is less tiring which sand for walk.
The bleached rooms, reached a maximum, of variable size, comprise all the same furniture: beds with 2 or 3 stages, out of wood, with straw mattress (more one envelope of straw mattress, a cloth, a pillowcase, covers), tables, benches and stools, cupboard, stove, dustbin. Sometimes it missed place with table and stools; one lived on the beds.
The unit forms a whole harmonious [?], ventilated, clean, comfortable [?]. Any concern must thus be isolated on the side housing, hygiene and cold.
DS. The camp is ordered by a German Colonel (ex prisoner of war among Russian in 1914-1918), helped several officers responsible for the various services, especially charged with passing the call morning and evening.
The French officers are grouped by “Kompagnie” whose manpower corresponds to that of the inhabitants of a hut. A French officer knowing German, the “Führer hut” the order. He presents the company to the calls, is used as intermediary between the officers and the German authorities, centralizes the orders for the canteen, makes the distributions of balances, objects come from the canteen, the newspapers.
He is in contact with the “Stube-Führers” (“chiefs of room”) responsible for the maintenance of the rooms, charged to centralize the orders of the room, to distribute balances it, the opinions, to check the presences with the call.
The French officers take part in the administration of the camp There are with a German officer several French officers “of day” (one recognizes them with the arm-band marked POV). Since January 1st, 1941, a French commander directs the kitchen and the distribution, helped of young lieutenants. As of the beginning, the French officers directed the canteen. There are French doctors with the infirmary. French officers also worked at the German military command, the treasury, the distribution of the letters and the parcels, with their sorting what especially allows a fast distribution of the latter.
French soldiers specialists help German in various auxiliary services: maintenance of the buildings, distribution of coal, the bed linen.
There are workshops of shoe manufacture (without leather) mending from the effects, 2 or 3 hairdressing salons…
According to this “classified” the workshop of mending seems to have competition!
And according to is this one, to say that the military cut was not any more rigor?
Various services are only assured by French such: the service pharmacy which provides sufficiently all the products of first urgency, aspirine, throat lozenges, Bayer specialities, of the cod-liver oil even; the service bookstore which gets German newspapers and books; the service library which has a restricted number of French books to rent; optical service and clock industry which is given the responsability to get glasses and eyeglass frames and to make repair the watches downtown.
The canteen, service ensured by French
DS. The canteen itself gets the office accessories (paper, inks, pencil, adhesive), of toilet (ices, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste (not of soap, every month the German authorities make us distribute a small cake of soap, every three months a shaving soap).
An appendix special provides all that it is necessary for the drawing and painting.
The canteen provides two more beer bottles per week, three to four times there was a wine bottle of the Rhine for three officers (to 3 or 4 marks part).
It got until in January a cigarette pack every 5 days. Since it does not find any more to supply itself. Send tobacco to your smokers. Nothing is worth the French tobacco.
Tobacco! These “classifieds” recopied by S/Lt Boursat attest it.
Since the autumn 1940, it obtained vegetables to us: salads, cabbages, celeries, carrots, onions, garlics, radish, etc; several lemon times. Fortunately because the gums and the teeth were attacked. One finds there vinegar, sometimes salt and mustard. In theory nothing substantial good, nothing like food itself: bread or grazes.
Two months ago one proposed to us, by his intermediary, of the tamed parakeets.
The whole of these services, allowing the solution of many minutiae, makes however that the material life with the camp is about normal, the food question put except for.
Currency used in Oflag
The captive officers continued to perceive their balance. But the greatest part was sent to the family: the “assignment of pay”. The remainder was versed for them, but not in the form of true tickets (some could have made economies, to facilitate their escape…). From where these “tickets”, in ReichMarks and Pfennigs, which enabled them to buy some supplements of food or the various objects. I remember to have received a box of colored pencils “stabilo”, gift of my father for Christmas 1941. (Jacques Draper)
DS. There was, with the camp, to 3500 officers and ordinances. Since the departure of the candidates, the medical ones and of some isolated, they are approximately 2800.
Among them there are officers of all ranks, of sub-lieutenant with colonel, all weapons (the German advance was if striking down that all was taken: artillery, health, etc). No aviators grouped in special camps. Of all held: some varieties of uniforms, colors, escutcheons, all the corners of France, much of Southerners (30 to 40 Toulouse). Of all the battlefields (Meuse, Dunkirk, Somme, Maginot) what was worth us precise information on the operations. Of all conditions and professions (military careers, teachers (200) priests (70) engineers, professors, farmers, industrialists, etc what facilitated the organization of all kinds of course and conferences.
As of the beginning, groups were formed. One posted under the hood of the canteen of the lists to fill: Breton, Lorraine, Audois, Aveyronnais, Toulouse, old of Stan, of Saint-Cyr military school, Farmers, people of the textile, mountaineers, philatelists, were registered, were discovered, taken place their day and their meeting room. One there known as the received news of the country; one discussed the interests of the profession there, one made special conferences there.
The formation of these various groups did not harm of anything the perfect agreement the unit which forms a perfectly plain whole, especially now that one disappeared the egoists (escaped) and the inevitable irritation from the beginning.
No political discussions: there is only one body of French officers, one and worthy, opposite the respectful winners.
Photograph: arrival of prisoners
DS. It is necessary to return this testimony to him, the German authority of the camp is not troublesome, upsetting, painful. Apart from the two daily calls (at 9:00 the morning, at 17:00 in winter the evening) which last outside 20 minute or fifteen minutes usually, inside if it bad weather, apart from the rare visits inspections of the Colonel or the officer of day, one makes hardly sees German. And of the officers come from other camps appreciate peace extremely that one leaves the prisoners of Oflag XB. One rises there and one lies down there when one wants. Apart from the fixed hours of the calls and lunch, one does what one wants and when one wants.
I do not forget, however, 2 or 3 inspections, excavations in some made rooms “manu militari” followed by the seizure of personal notes to censure and returned then.
The call (German Officer: Haufmann Rifling). “DS. One breaks the rows only when they finished. That does not prevent, while waiting, to cause…”