Murray Cook born 1924
When asked to say something
tonight I was not sure what to talk about but decided that we should
really trace some of Murray’s life – hopefully some of which will be
unknown to some of you.
As most of you know, I have
an interest in history and newspapers and came across this article in the
31st May, 1945 edition of the Ayr Advertiser.
I have a photocopy of the
article and it appears that Murray’s family owe their existence to, among
others, a German soldier.
The headline in the paper was
“Repatriated P.O.W” and there was a photograph of Private James
Murray Cook, son of Mr and Mrs James M. Cook.
Apparently “he had reached
home in the early hours of Saturday morning through the good offices of
the ‘Get You Home Service’ in
Presumably that was Saturday May 26.
The paper went on:
“After two and a half
years of captivity he is looking forward to the celebration of his
twenty-first birthday with his ain folk.
Joining up at 17, Private
Cook later volunteered for service in the 1st Battalion, Royal
Paratroop Regiment, and proceeded with them to North Africa. He was posted
missing in March 1943, but news was received shortly afterwards that he
was in hospital in Italy, having been wounded and captured at Sedjenane.
After capture he found he
had been wounded by a Spanish sniper who was a member of the Hermann
Goering Parachute Regiment, and that another Spaniard was about to finish
him off when he was prevented by a German soldier.”
Murray, in fact, had been
severely wounded and captured in the heavy fighting at Sedjenane, which is
in Tunisia, in January 1943. He was operated on in Tunis by German
surgeons and flown to an Italian Prisoner of War hospital in Naples.
Later, he says, the wounded
and sick were moved to Bologna. Throughout this period they were nursed by
nuns whose care and kindness Murray remembers with great gratitude.
The Advertiser went on:
“Following the Allied
landing in Italy he was transferred to Stalag 344 in Germany where, in his
weakened condition, he owed his survival to the helpfulness of other
Ayrshire lads and the Red Cross parcels.”
According to Murray, on the
Italian collapse sometime in May, the patients were moved by rail to
Stalag 344 in Uber Silesia. I have a
photograph of him when he was in the prisoner of the war camp.
Murray 2nd back row 4th from right in prisoner of war camp.
The photograph was taken in
the winter when he was recovering from wounds and jaundice – hence his
doleful expression, he says.
It shows the Members of the
Ayrshire Association in Stalag 344 (Lamsdorf). Murray says the
photographer was a civilian, probably paid by Red Cross cigarettes.
In the photo there are two
George Robertsons and Murray who are the only Maybole men plus Andy
Tudhope from Girvan.
Later that year, Murray
joined a working party in a wood pulp mill. “Working is a misnomer,” he
says, “There was keen competition to do as little as possible. Avoiding
work, I discovered, is the most exhausting form of ‘work’ there is.”
Back to the Advertiser, (now
talking about 1945):
“On January 18, while in a
working party in Poland, they were ordered to march south, pulling their
kit behind them through the snow and ice on home made sledges.
For the next four months
the diminishing column plodded on, with the temperature until middle March
well below zero and their feet frozen numb for days on end; sometimes
awaking with their balaclavas frozen to their heads, keeping alive on a
few potatoes and such animal goods as they could ‘scrounge’ by the
All Murray says is, “When the
Red Army made its final breakthrough in January 1945 the prisoners made a
forced march through the Polish winter to the Sudetenland where I saw
scenes of appalling savagery.”
Sudetenland is a term for the
German settlement area of the Bohemian Lands - Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian
Silesia. So those of you who think Murray is a bit of a Bohemian - now you
know why! It was also part of Czechoslovakia off and on.
The Advertiser went on:
“In Czecho-Slovakia two
days before VE Day Private Cook and two friends took advantage of the
confusion behind the German lines to leave the column by jumping on a
lorry carrying German troops, whose only thought seemed to be to get away
from the advancing Russians.
At Bodenbach the lorry
halted, following a nightmare journey for the Germans, with all the scenes
of the French retreat in 1940 multiplied into almost an inferno of the
Another lift on a lorry
loaded by the Germans with their looted food, took the prisoners to
Kninitz, where they took up their ‘residence’ in the late burgomaster’s
house to await the arrival of the Russians.
This house was occupied by
an old German woman, her daughter and three grandchildren, who welcomed
the British prisoners as mascots for the house in the eyes of the coming
The prisoners’ first
‘feed’ consisted of half a pig between four of them, surrounded by half a
dozen eggs each, and, following the privations of the long march, it
nearly killed them.
When the Russians arrived
they embraced the British prisoners who, following a rather hectic week
with their eastern Allies, were transferred to the American lines.”
Murray says, “Sometime later
in April I managed to escape from the column and found myself in a village
called Kninitz. From there I eventually got to Karlsbad where the
Americans had an airstrip. They flew me to Rheims. From there the Royal
Air Force flew me to England. I was in Maybole 24 hours later.”
In fact, from early 1945
until the end of the war, as the Russian armies threatened the German
homeland, the eastern-most POW camps were evacuated and their occupants
were force marched hundreds of miles westward, on foot and frequently in
appalling winter conditions with little or nothing in the way of food,
clothing, medical care, or shelter. Often they would march 20 – 25
kilometres a day and it could be as much as 30 kms. Many hundreds of
prisoners of war died on what became known as "The Long March". It was
also known as “The Death March.”
One POW remembered, “I found
it impossible to take my shoes off my crippled feet and don't actually
remember removing them except just once in three months. Nor did I change
my clothes so I must have stunk to high heaven like everyone else. Lice
became an irritating nuisance and impossible to locate due to this
restriction, but occasionally I found some of these 3mm long white
bloodsuckers, which I crunched between my fingernails.”
Back to the Advertiser:
“Private Cook stated that
apart from the hardships of the terrible march their unforgettable
complaint is the manner in which they were treated by the Italians when
the latter thought they were on top, with the Germans to support them.”
About returning home Murray
says, “I had some difficulty in adjusting to the changed circumstances.”
However, according to another
article on the same page of the Advertiser, it seems as if he was no
sooner home than he was attending a civic welcome which was accorded to a
number of local lads to mark their return home from prisoner of war camps.
“Provost Hicks extended a
hearty welcome to Messrs T Cuthill, J M Cook, A Graham, R Irvine, J
McClure, J Whitefield and R Robertson. Ex-Provost McCulloch presented them
with a box of cigarettes and a sum of money.
A dance was afterwards
held in the Town Hall. Catering was capably carried through by Mrs
Strachan, Coffee House.”