Following his dramatic capture on the reconnaissance mission over Germany in October 1939, Alfie spent the rest of the war in PoW camps across Nazi-occupied Europe. In total, he was interred in 12 camps, including the infamous Stalag Luft III, and also took part in the long march in 1945.
Life in the camps
The PoW camps became a microcosm of life in the Armed Forces for the men captured and interred. Many camp inmates had specific roles to try and make life more bearable for everyone.
Alfie’s main activity throughout his incarceration was the handling and administration of the Red Cross parcels. In his first camp, he had been elected to represent the NCOs and airmen shot down and the initial parcel to arrive was collected by him and two other NCOs.
Throughout the remainder of his captivity, Alfie became the Red Cross representative at whatever camp he was in. The duties consisted of keeping a record of all parcels received and distributed. A strict booking procedure was adhered to as it was vital in times of hardship when food was scarce and supplies of parcels had been held up en route.
To satisfy the camp committee that all parcels had been accounted for, the Red Cross parcels were packed strictly in accordance with international standards. There were times, however, when ‘special’ parcels were packed and sent… to aid with escape attempts!
These ‘special’ parcels were sent under various trade names, which were sent, after notification had been given, using a special code in the normal PoW mail. This information was passed on to Alfie from the camp leader and then it was up to him to ensure the ‘special’ parcels went undiscovered as they were being sorted in the vorlager under the eyes of the German staff.
To help get the parcels through, Alfie and his colleagues would cause some sort of distraction, such as engaging the guards in some sort of conversation or create a disturbance of some kind to draw their attention away.
It was usually by creating a heated argument that Alfie would get the contents past the guards and into the camp. This method proved very successful as not one parcel was ever lost this way!
Entertainment and sports
His first role on the stage was a not too glamorous role as a cowboy in “Way Out West”. This was followed by a pantomime in which the vice chairman Dave Bernard was the fairy godmother and Alfie was the Dame – although Dave always insisted that they were the ugly sisters!
A series of sketches followed and Alfie’s acting highlight came in a production of The Merchant of Venice in which he starred as Launcelot Gobbo. To commemorate his stage triumph, he persuaded an interpreter to take a colour photograph which was printed in German… for the price of a tin of coffee.
The camps Alfie called home
Spangenberg Castle (from November 1939)
Spangenberg village (from January 1940)
Wildflechen (from March 1940) Weimar (from May 1940)
Shoken (from June 1940) Posen Fort VIII (from July 1940)
Stalag Luft I (from August 1940)
Stalag Luft III Sagan (from August 1942)
Stalag Luft VI Hydekrug (from August 1943)
Stalag 357, Thorne
Stalag 357, Falingbostel
Long March (from March 1945)