By Kirsty-Ann Hewson: One of Staffordshire’s remaining World War Two heroes has relived the horror of his five years spent in a prisoner of war camp.
With Remembrance Day just around the corner, 92-year-old veteran Norman Lewis has shared the story with StaffsLive of his time in enemy hands.
Norman, from William Avenue, Meir, and seven other men were ambushed after carrying out orders to bomb a bridge in France.
He was a royal engineer before he was captured and was made to walk five days behind the front line without food or water.
The march caused him to collapse and he was taken to hospital, but as soon as he was out he was ordered to march from France to Holland and he never saw his captured friends again.
Norman told how the memories of his time in captivity would never leave him.
“The years were rotten,” he said. “At one time I didn’t expect to come back.”
When Norman did return he weighed a measly eight stone, six pounds.
“Our menu was imitation coffee for breakfast, turnip soup for dinner and at night time black bread, margarine and jam for two years,” he said. “It is a weight loss menu.
“We were lousy – we got lice and fleas and were always hungry and we slept on the floor before we made big platforms for us to sleep on.
“One time a few of us were pulled out and taken to a warehouse full of food and told to dig in.
“As soon as we started they took us out. They used us to see if there was poison in the food.
“We were told to empty our water bottles and fill it up from the pond and there was a horse blown to pieces in it. I got diphtheria.
“The camp itself had a great big wire fence 10ft high. Another 10 ft inside the fence was one single strand of wire and if anyone stepped over that they were shot.
“We were playing football one day and the ball bounced against the main fence and a lad ran for it and they shot him saying he was trying to escape.
“Another lad was tired and didn’t want to work, so told the guard and the guard hit him, so he hit him back and was shot through the face. We weren’t allowed to go to him, he just lay bleeding on the floor.”
After that nightmare was over the captured troops were sent as a working party to a farm. It was while they were there that the Russians invaded and Norman and his comrades were freed.
He was instructed to go to Warsaw which was a 175 mile walk in January snow. Once there he continued his gruelling three month journey to get home, travelling from Poland to Odessa, on to Turkey. then Egypt and Italy, before reaching Gibraltar for the final leg of his journey home.
“I wasn’t bothered when I was captured – it was just war” Norman said. “I didn’t expect to be captured because we were told they didn’t take prisoners, they just shot them.
“They were going to shoot us and the daftest thing, I thought would it hurt?”
Despite reliving the horrors of his time during the conflict, Norman – who has been married to his wife Dorothy for 65 years – believes it is important to share his story.
“I don’t mind talking about it – I think more people should talk about their experience,” he explained.
“The younger generation should be told about what we went through.
“I love that I can tell my story. I appreciate life, I don’t feel anger for them, but I accept life as it comes.”
The Royal British Legion will be remembering the efforts of servicemen and women on Remembrance Day.