A SECOND World War veteran who spent four-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war has finally been awarded his campaign medals – 70 years after the conflict ended.
Stan Roberts, 94, of Gorse Lane, Kingston Gorse, was presented with The 1939-45 Star, The War Medal and The Atlantic Star by Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley, at Worthing Indoor Bowls Club, on Saturday.
Speaking after the presentation, Mr Roberts’ daughter Jennifer, 68, of South Strand, Angmering, said: “I think he felt quite in awe of the whole thing. He was very happy about the whole day, which was really nice. He was very proud.”
Despite spending so many years in captivity, often in terrible conditions, Mr Roberts described himself as ‘the luckiest man alive’.
He signed up to the Merchant Navy aged 17, training in Sharpness by the River Severn, before securing a ship in Liverpool.
In the early stages of the war he worked as a seaman, making trips to West Africa and the Caribbean to transport consignments of bananas.
While aboard the refrigerated SS Mopan on November 5, 1940, Mr Roberts and his crew were captured by the German battleship the Admiral Scheer in the Atlantic. They were forced to watch on as the Scheer sank their ship and its cargo.
Recalling the capture, Mr Roberts said: “When I landed on the ship I looked around and there were a couple of blokes sat behind a machine gun and I thought they were going to machine gun us. Actually they weren’t bad blokes. All the time we were on the Scheer they treated us very well. We had the same food (as the Germans) and everything. As soon as we were in Bordeaux everything changed.”
After around three weeks on board the Scheer, the captured crew were transferred to the hold of the Nordmark – a tanker converted into a prison ship – where they remained for two months.
Eventually they arrived in the French city of Bordeaux and were taken to a prison camp. Some time later Mr Roberts was put on a train headed for Germany. It was during this trip that he made his first escape attempt.
Waiting until nightfall, when the train rounded a bend he leapt out of the carriage. As he climbed to his feet he found that four other prisoners had joined him. The men spent the next week trying to evade capture. They sought refuge in a farmyard’s hay loft, and when a young girl arrived to feed cattle, Mr Roberts popped up and said ‘Bonjour’. The girl’s family provided the men with a bap and sent them on their way.
The escape ended when they were captured by French gendarmes, who initially believed them to be French deserters.
His second escape attempt came when he was inside Sandbostel concentration camp in Germany. After learning that a prisoner due to go out and work on a farm was ill, he offered to take their place. As the group passed by a farm, Stan snuck off while the party continued on.
He said: “I was out for three or four days and was pretty hungry at that time. I talked to a guy working in a field, and said ‘have you got anything to eat?’ He looked at me and said ‘no’. I got about a mile up the road and a farmer came out with a shotgun.”
He added that he was ‘pretty sure’ the man in the field had told on him.
In total, Mr Roberts attempted three escapes from Sandbostel and was captured each time. As punishment he was given solitary confinement for three weeks and made to live off just bread and water.
He was later moved to Milag Nord prisoner of war camp which housed prisoners from the Merchant Navy.
Mr Roberts was eventually liberated on April 28, 1945.
All of his Merchant Navy records were destroyed in the war by enemy bombing. When he tried to rejoin, he was rejected for not possessing proof of former service.
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