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Movietone at War: Martin Gray at Stalag X1B

Movietone‘s sound crew of Paul Wyand and Martin Gray had spent a year and a month in the front line of the Italian Campaign.  They were driving their camera car throughout the period.   It was a Humber Imperial.  It had been purchased after Movietone lost two cars in the evacuation of British forces from Northern France.   It was second hand and was   purchased from a retired admiral who had kept it in pristine condition.  With all their equipment on board, it weighed two tons.

When the crew were withdrawn from Italy,  they were taken to the south of France from there they drove the full length of the country to Cherbourg where they were ferried across the Channel.

The Humber was completely renovated and Wyand and Gray were now assigned to the front in the low countries and in northern Germany.

By April 1945, they were making their way through north Germany with Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery’s forces, with the British Second Army..

They drove round a bend to be suddenly confronted by a German tank with its turret gun pointing straight at them.  Martin Gray pulled up and they waited.  They looked at each other and “managed a sickly grin”.

Quoting from Paul Wyand’s account in his book ,”Useless if delayed”:

Gray: “We’re a prize pair, aren’t we ?”

Wyand: “If you try to turn, they will open fire”

Gray:  “Whatever we do, they’ve got us”

For how long we sat there, I do not know, but we were both aware that the only thing to do was to go forward.  After a while, without saying a word, Gray released the hand-brake and drove slowly towards the German tank.

I stared at the muzzle of the gun, too scared to be conscious of my fear. A certain fatalism, a certainty of death, numbed my mind…..

….then as Gray eased the car between the tank and the trees, I saw a German soldier hanging grotesquely from the back of the turret. He was dead.  So, too were the other members if the crew.  We could see no sign of damage, and could only suppose that some one had tossed a grenade into the tank.

Leaving Diepholz, we drove towards Fallingbostel.  Gray was in a hurry to get there, and understandably so; his brother-in-law was a Prisoner of War in the area.

Gray and Wyand were five kilometers from Fallingbostel when they met up with a British unit, who told them that the patrols hadn’t entered the POW camp, but were hoping to do so soon.  Fallingbostel P.O.W. camp was called Stalag X1B and with the addition of XID/357, by 1944 the prisoner population of the various camps was in the region of 95,000.  There were British prisoners, one an airman shot down on September 4th, 1939, there were prisoners from the retreat to Dunkirk and from Arnhem.  There were Poles incarcerated since 1939.

There were Italians, captured when Italy capitulated in 1943.  There were 12,000 Russians from the Eastern Front. Then there were Americans from the Battle of the Bulge.

German troops were still fighting in the area so Gray and Wyand were warned by the British troops to stay away from the POW camp.

There was an assault going on with British tanks who were by-passing the POW camp.

The camp had surrendered but no British troops had gone in to occupy it.

Paul Wyand shot scenes of the British armoured attack.  In the distance he could see the POW camp as the sun shone on the roofs of the buildings.

Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel

Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel

Paul Wyand describes their arrival at the camp:

By 1 pm, the Germans were in retreat, and as the troops and tanks moved forward, we drove along with them.  Near the P.O.W. camp the armour swung off to the left, but we went straight ahead along the dusty road to the camp.  I was filming (on top of the camera car with the camera on a tripod) as the Germans opened the gates, and the scene that followed was like something out of this world.

Like demented savages, thousands of prisoners came towards us, screaming and shouting, and they all but turned the car over in the wild enthusiasm of their greeting.

Ours was the first Allied vehicle to enter the place;  the prisoners patted it and kissed it, and tears rolled unashamedly down many faces.   When they saw the tanks turn away they thought they were going to be abandoned, and our arrival, coupled with their natural reactions after years behind barbed wire, sent the boys almost berserk.

Above the din, Gray was shouting “Does anyone know a chap called Stacey ?”  Suddenly some one nudged him and said “Here I am Martin”.  Tearfully they hugged each other and we recorded an interview with Reg Stacey.

We got permission to take Stacey with us and soon, we found an R.A.F. flight going home. Stacey was put on the flight.

Stalag X1B was the first P.O.W. camp to be liberated in Europe and the Movietonews camera car was the first British vehicle to arrive there.

The following year Martin Gray became a cameraman with Movietonews.  His first assignment was The Victory Parade of June 1946.

If you register for movietone.com the footage of Paul Wyand and Martin Gray entering the camp and the interview with Reg Stacey can be found in the story: “Interviews with liberated prisoners” dated 26/04/45, story number 45705.

The Movietone At War articles are based on extracts and research for my forthcoming book: “Movietone At War”.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2013.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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