Letter to the Editor – EX POW BULLETIN from H. L. Martin of 5 Netley Close, Poole, Dorset, BH13 3NW (Data supplied by William A Carlton of the 351st)…paul west
How Remarkable! by H. L. Martin
Follow-up to "Last Mission, Thank the Heroes" by Burton Joseph
EDITOR’S NOTE: "Last Mission, Thank the Heroes" by Burton Joseph, 100th Bombardment Group (H), was published in the September 1995 issue of the Ex-POW Bulletin, pages 29-30. The following article appeared in the New Zealand ex-POW magazine, PoW-WoW, H.L. Martin writes, "I was on the ‘Dunkirk Vintage’ of Royal Army Medical Corps personnel who were left behind to tend the casualties from the Spring battles for France who were to become prisoners of war. It fell to our lot to try to care for then wounded who were inevitably left behind at all the reverses which the Allies suffered in and around Europe with a rising number of downed airmen amongst them throughout the remainder of the war. A major repatriation of medical personnel and incapacitated men was effected in late 1943, and the number of USAAF airmen was at a time when were becoming grossly over tired from our long incarceration and unending toil. This was eased after the catastrophe at Arnhem when a number of airborne medics joined us, but I would like to take this belated opportunity to express the apologies of all my colleagues for the inadequacies of our performance in tending those who came in to Obermassfeld during those momentous days."
How Remarkable !
There are those, some ex-POW’s amongst them, who feel that to give fair consideration to the past is to live in the past; that live is for the living today and for the future ! This story would, I feel, well illustrate that history as we have known it can be a real significance to the present if it carries no harbored resentment, rancor or even maintained hate in its wake.
Burt Joseph’s article, "Last Mission, Thank the Heroes," which appeared in the December 1995 issue of PoW-WoW (having been reproduced from the American counterpart originally) was cut out and sent to me by my friend and ex-Obermassfeld colleague, Jack Russell of Auckland. The story of how Burt had conducted a search to try to trace Major John Sherman who had successfully carried out skin-grafting on his face at Obermassfeld (Kdo, 1249, Stalag IXC) Lazarette, to thank the Major fore what he had done for him during WWII, was thoroughly intriguing to me. I had worked under Major Sherman though-out his stay at Obermassfeld and I knew personally the other man to whom Burt had referred, Captain (Lord) Arundell, as I had tended him during his terminal illness and saw him off on a journey home, which was only just completed before his death. Strangely, it had long been an intention of mine to visit the village or Tisbury where he is interred to recognize the outstanding qualities of that fine man. I had promised to the Eastborne, Sussex, RAMC Association about how we tried to contend with burns and frostbite cases in the prison camp conditions, had written to Cadbury’s Chocolate PC Archives to ask if they could give me a little background to Major Sherman, whom I knew had been their company doctor pre-war. They sent me quite a collection of excerpts from their company magazine, covering the whole time in their employ, which was resumed after the war and continued to the late 1940’s! It mentioned that his early attempts at skin-grafting were carried out with a razor blade. I did not recall that but except it as authentic.
As Burt’s article had carried his address I promptly wrote to him and in responses he sent me copies of letter he had received when his story had gone out in the USA. One of them, from Joseph Gill of Madison, ME, another one-time airman who, when shot down had suffered very severe jaw injuries, spoke of the work carried out on him by Captain Dodgshun, our NZ dental officer for so long at Obermassfeld. Via Jack I sent a copy of that to Captain Dodgshun and, although now in his eighties, he was greatly enthralled by it and was able to find amongst his mementoes, his own notes relating to the operation he performed on Joe Gill all those years before. He sent copies of those over to his erstwhile patient who took them in to his present Veterans Administration consultant who was, like Joe Gill himself, amazed at the emergence of those details relating to his original injuries and the treatment applied to them. The with which Captain Dodgshun had fixed Joe Gill’s jaw was still in situ! I have not heard if the two doctors have corresponded between themselves, but would not be surprised were to not so.
Meanwhile, Burt Joseph has informed relatives of both Major Sherman and Lord Arundell of this incredible round-the -world linkage and it is possible further correspondence might come from that which could add to the embracing nature of the connections.
Both Burt and Joe Gill mentioned other names which had stayed in their memories down though the years, some of which were so familiar to me and about whom I have been able to make further mention in my letters back to them. It has brought pleasure and satisfaction and even some gratification to those who have participated in the writing involved. It is so easy when little items crops up which trigger positive memories, to let them slide past as if no consequence to anyone – live for the day and the future. But a little reaction t the stimulus can be, as we have seen, highly rewarding and bring the past right into the present.
One added thought of a personal nature: when Obermassfeld was finally and so dramatically liberated, I had spent as of that date, well toward a fifth of my life till then there. It is a happy thought that despite my own humble contribution and all the inadequacies of training, materials and psychological background to the work, a little tinge of emotion comes to the surface in realizing it was not all a waste of time. for most of us of that generation, our youth was poured down the drain which was what it had to be. Life at Obermassfeld was not always a bed of roses, but for those of us who worked there, maybe we were fortunate…
H. L. Martin