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A tale of survival through their own eyes

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Held in the Milag merchant navy prison camp at Westertimke in northern Germany, Samuel Houghton remained there until Allied forces took the camp in April, 1945.

During his time there, Mr Houghton collected writings, theatrical programmes, cartoons and photographs, compiling them into an account of life as a prisoner of war.

The book, composed in a log supplied to prisoners by the British Red Cross, was later collected as a book by Mr Houghton’s family, and excerpts have been reprinted with their permission.

The book opens with a signed roll-call of Camp Management and Camp doctors, many listing which ship they had come from and when it had been attacked in many cases, the vessels were sunk.

Theatre was a diversion from the lassitude of camp life. The faded signatures of Merchant Navy Theatre accompany a photo of musicians gathered on a makeshift stage.

Later in the book, the prisoner’s hand-drawn playbills advertise productions like ‘Bon Voyage’ and ‘Ghost Train’.

Carefully-printed pages of ship names list the dates they were sunk or captured, followed by pen drawings of Mr Houghton’s ship, the

Canadolite next to the German raider

Steinmark, which became the

Kormoran after the Nazis requisitioned her for war.

Mr Houghton’s log contains numerous poems by fellow prisoners. Their painstaking lettering hints at long hours. Their subjects range from gallows humour to careful accounts of episodes in the war.

“I have been in some queer places, but this one beats the band,” opens one poem, by prisoner number 92135.

Dark humour gleams through in a list of “extracts from letters to prisoners of war”. “I am so glad you were shot down before flying became dangerous,” reads one.

The sheer size of the Milag prison complex is implied in another: “George is in Stalag XIII, can you pop around and see him.”

German ration reductions are reported in grams and ounces. Sugar, for instance, was cut to 20 grams per man per day.

The log also reproduces Nazi propaganda. “This conflict between England and Germany is racial suicide,” reads one anti-Soviet tract, ostensibly from the British Free Corps. “We must unite and take up arms against the common enemy.”

The author’s son, John Houghton, said he has no idea where his father obtained photographs depicting life in the camp, but speculates that the prisoners obtained a smuggled camera, very likely at great personal risk.

Paintings of barbed wire fences and rifle-bearing guards mingle with cartoons one of which shows Mr Houghton tunnelling with another prisoner.

“Just think, Sam,” the caption reads. “Another minute, and we shall be free.” Just above them, guards stand in wait.

Some pages, possibly in Mr Houghton’s own hand, detail the routes taken from Bordeaux in occupied France to the camp at Bremervorde, Germany. Mr Houghton was initially placed in Sandbostel, or Stalag X-B, where some 46,000 prisoners are believed to have perished.

He was transferred to Milag Nord on August 27, 1941, after which reads: “1st Jan ’45. Still here. Can’t last much longer.”

Samuel Houghton was freed on April 8, 1945.

An excerpt from Samuel E Houghtons Wartime log as a POW in Germany.
Samuel Ernest Houghton (left) is pictured amongst fellow POW's at the Milag Nord Prison Camp from the War Log of Samuel Ernest Houghton

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Published February 28, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 28, 2012 at 7:26 am)

A tale of survival through their own eyes

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