Horace Greasley

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Horace Greasley
Born Horace Joseph Greasley
25 December 1918 (1918-12-25)
Ibstock, Leicestershire
Died 4 February 2010 (2010-02-05) (aged 91)
L'Alfàs del Pi, Alicante, Spain- Costa Blanca
Other names Jim Greasley
Known for Escaping and returning to his POW camp over 200 times to meet with his love interest
Spouse(s) Kathleen (???? -????) Divorced
Brenda Greasley (1975 - 2010) His death
Children 2

Joseph Horace "Jim" Greasley (25 December 1918 - 4 February 2010) was an English prisoner of war who later gained fame for escaping from his camp over 200 times, and returning back into captivity each time.[1] Horace's repeated escapes were due to a secret love affair with an interpreter named Rosa Rauchbach, a local Silesian girl. His only reason for returning to the camp was due to the lack of a place to go after escape as each camp was surrounded by German-occupied countries.[2] The prisoners were also well aware of what happened to those that had tried to flee to other countries.[2]



Biography [edit]

Horace Greasley was born on Christmas Day in 1918 along with twin brother Harold, to Joseph and Mabel Greasley.[3] Greasley grew up in the village of Ibstock, Leicestershire at 101 Pretoria Road [2] where he worked on his family's farm fields and tended to the animals throughout his teens.[4]

World War II [edit]

When Greasley was aged 20, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia only a few months before the Military Training Act was passed.[4] This act would certainly have forced Greasley into the armed services. However, shortly afterward whilst working as a local barber, he mentioned to a customer that he was headed to war.[3] The customer was in charge of staffing the local fire department and immediately offered him a job,[3] and this would exempt him from army service.[3] Greasley respectfully declined and decided to go to war instead.[3]

On his first day of training, Horace was renamed Jim by a Corporal that didn't want a soldier named Horace coming into his billet.[2] This would remain his name throughout his service life.[2] After seven weeks of training with 2nd / 5th Battalion Leicesters at the grounds of the Leicestershire County Cricket Club, Greasley was posted to northern France,[4] where he along with his battalion were captured outside Cambrai.[4]

Prisoner of War [edit]

Greasley was captured and taken prisoner on 25 May 1940 and forced to march for ten weeks across France and Belgium, en route to Poland.[3] It was on this march that he met his best friend throughout the war, Flapper Garwood.[2] Once they arrived at Clervaux, Luxembourg they were to board a train that took them the rest of the way.[2] Conditions on the train ride were dreadful, and all prisoners suffered from dysentery.[2] Many died during this journey from exhaustion, starvation and untreated ailments.[2] The more time that passed while inside the cramped train car, the more bodies were found on the floor along with excrement of the remaining living passengers.[2]

Camp One (Fort VIII) [edit]

After the intense, inhumane journey, Greasley and his fellow PoWs were held at Stalag XXI-D, Fort VIII, where they were forced to sleep in old horse stables used in World War I.[2] The stables provided meager accommodations of urine-soaked straw on top of concrete for beds which were infested with lice, cockroaches, mice and maggots.[2] These caused them to scratch their skin into open sores: there were no showers to clean any filth off their bodies.[2] Greasley had been lucky enough to sneak in a nail file to keep his nails trimmed and rubbed his lice-bitten skin to prevent spreading.[2] Maggots infested the open sores of the other prisoners.[2]

The winter of 1940/41 was almost unbearable as temperatures reached -40 Celcius.[2] The former cavalry building they were housed at was designed to be hidden from the air, and was partially underground.[2] This made the prisoner's floor like a basement that was more than a few degrees warmer than outside.[2] The prisoners had no extra clothing, blankets or fires to keep them warm during these times, only the body heat of other prisoners.[2] The very cold weather continued and did not ease until mid-March 1941.[2]

During their time at Fort VIII, the prisoners were fed a daily ration of cabbage soup.[2] The prisoners suffered through torture and beatings at the hands of the SS guards; some were even raped, and numerous were murdered.[2] Greasley himself had been beaten to near-death at this camp after disrespecting a haircut-seeking SS guard in English (not knowing the other guard could comprehend).[2] Greasley lay unconscious for two days afterwards while his fellow prisoners tended to his wounds.[2]

The mistreatment at Fort VIII came to a halt when an inspection delegation from Geneva, Switzerland arrived.[2] A brave soldier named Charlie Cavendish told the inspectors of the horrors the prisoners had experienced at the camp even though the Germans had tried to cover this up prior to the inspection.[2] Fort VIII was being shut down and the prisoners would be transferred. Cavendish knew beforehand that he would die at the hands of the SS for his actions but did so anyway in an effort to save his comrades and fellow prisoners.[2] Cavendish was missing at roll call the next day and was never seen or heard from again but forever remembered for his kind heart.[2]

Camp Two (Quarry in Silesia) [edit]

The prisoners were taken to another camp in Silesia where they were given hot showers, more food and better beds than at Fort VIII.[2] The prisoners were still forced to work in a marble quarry for ten hours each day, although without the brutality of the SS.[2] Later the camp owner, Herr Rauchbach, introduced his daughter Rosa to the prisoners to serve as an interpreter.[2] Greasley and Rosa soon started meeting in private as they realized their attraction to each other.[2] The pair first started meeting in the camp workshop during lunchtime when all but one of the guards had left the grounds, and the one left behind would soon be napping.[2] Eventually Greasley was given a solo job in the nearby forest using dynamite to blast the marble, which made it easier for Rose, as he called her, to visit him.[2] Eventually the SS noticed the high productivity of the prisoners at Rauchbach's facility and they would be transferred to yet another camp.[2]

Camp Three (Freiwaldau) [edit]

Greasley was heart-broken as he entered the new camp in Freiwaldau, even though the conditions were much better than the last, he was without Rosa.[2] Greasley, camp barber again, received a letter from Rosa delievered by a fellow prisoner, Dave Crump.[2] Rosa had searched through a variety of cities and eventually recognized some of the prisoners at Freiwaldau where she passed along the letter.[2]

Greasley began to devise a plan to meet Rosa. He found that the bars on the window in his room could be disassembled, then analyzed the guards' patrol patterns at night.[2] Once Greasley determined there was a good chance to escape, he wrote to Rosa and told her to meet him in the forest behind the camp.[2] Greasley's escapes could not have been possible without help from his fellow comrades who would replace the window bars with wooden fixtures so that he could easily break back in.[2] He would eventually be able to bring back extra vegetables and meat for the prison chef to add to the stew and increase food quality.[2] Once Greasley grew weary from not knowing the status of the war, he convinced Rosa to bring him equipment to construct a radio.[2] Eventually a working radio was constructed, and was used as the source of news which was subsequently passed along to the other prisoners by writing the information on fake cigarettes.[2]

Greasley escaped from Freiwaldau over 200 times to see Rosa, and he risked death by firing squad if caught.[2] On their last meeting in the forest, Greasley convinced Rosa to move elsewhere as the war was ending, as she would be in danger if discovered as German.[2] He gave her his parents' address so she could advise him where she was once she was safe.[2] He promised her that no matter what the outcome he would tell the world of her good-deeds and of their love by writing a book.[2]

Liberation [edit]

After a night of rest, the prisoners awoke to being guard-free as the guards had fled during the night.[2] The prisoners continued marching in the hope of meeting up with the Russians who could bring them back home.[2] The prisoners eventually met a group of Russians who took them aboard their lorry on 24 May 1945.[2] Greasley had been in captivity for one day short of five years.

Eventually the prisoners were transported to an American base,[2] from where Greasley was one of the last prisoners of his group to be sent home.[2]

Post-War [edit]

Greasley eventually received a letter from Rosa noting she was safe and [2] in Germany at an American air-base.[2] During this time Horace had started his own barbershop with money his parents had saved for him, and Rosa had a good job with the Americans after Greasley verified that she had helped the Allied prisoners.[2]

Letters from Rosa stopped in December 1945 and even though Greasley tried to contact her numerous times, she could not be reached.[2] A year later, Greasley received a letter from a friend of Rosa, who informed him that Rosa had died with her newborn son, Jakub (Silesian for Jacob or Jim).[2] Greasley did not know whether the child was his.

Greasley had two children by his first wife Kathleen, Stephen and Lesley. He married his second wife Brenda in 1975 and moved to Spain where he remained until his death at the age of 91.

Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell? (autobiography) [edit]

In Spring of 2008, ghostwriter Ken Scott was introduced to Horace Greasley so, aged eighty-nine, he could finally have his World War II memoirs recorded. Scott stated that he only acted as Horace's fingers to type the book as Horace suffered from extreme arthritis.[2] The book was finished and published by the end of 2008 by Libros International.[2] The biography describes Horace's decision to go to war, his capture, struggles, near-death experiences, brutality of the SS, the unique love of Rosa Rauchbach, the escapes and ultimately his liberation.[2]

Confrontation with Himmler [edit]

The February 2010 Telegraph obituary [1] published a photograph captioned "Greasley confronting Heinrich Himmler (wearing the spectacles) in the PoW camp". The photograph and its description has subsequently been republished by other news sources. The photograph comes from Himmler's visit to a Shirokaya Street POW camp in Minsk, USSR taken in August 1941.[5][6] Additional photographs from the visit [7] as well as film footage of Himmler's visit[8] shows more of the camp as well as the events before and after the famous picture was taken.

The shirtless man in the photograph is not Horace Greasley but an unnamed Soviet POW [9] wearing a standard-issue Red Army "pilotka" sidecap.[10] When interviewed by the Leicester Mercury, the historian Guy Walters said that he "had no doubt whatsoever" that the man in the photograph was not Greasley.

References [edit]

  1. ^ a b "Horace Greasley - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi Greasley, Horace; Scott, Ken (Ghost Writer) (2008). Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell? (in English). Libros International. ISBN 978-1-905988-80-8. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Greasley, Horace (2008). Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?. Libros International. pp. Synopsis. ISBN 978-1905988808. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Horace Bio". www.horacegreasley.net84.net. Retrieved 8 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Himmler in Minsk". Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Retrieved 2012-12-01. 
  6. ^ "Himmler inspects a prisoner of war camp in Russia". General Services Administration. National Archives and Records Service. Retrieved 2012-12-01. 
  7. ^ "Heinrich Himmler Visiting Russian POW Camp". Corbis Images. Retrieved 2012-12-01. 
  8. ^ "Himmler & Bach-Zelewski visit camp in Minsk". STEVEN SPIELBERG FILM AND VIDEO ARCHIVE. Retrieved 2012-12-01. 
  9. ^ "1941: Mass Murder". The Holocaust Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-12-01. 
  10. ^ "Overview of uniforms of the period". 13th Guards Poltavaskaya. Retrieved 2012-12-01.