Murray Cook
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Murray Cook with family at surprise 80th birthday party

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 Glasgow”. 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 wayside.”


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 crumbling Reich.


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 Russians.


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.


It read:

“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.”