John Green with his fiancée, Lilian - 1939What you're about to read are Mr. Green's thoughts as he waits with his sergeant for the signal to crash their lorry in to the canal bridge that German soldiers and tanks are moving towards.
Most of the older men I worked with at the tannery were veterans of the Great War and none of them ever presented what they had endured in a heroic light. For them, war was not for anybody. Well, maybe it was for the officers way behind the lines who never got their uniforms soiled by mud and blood, but it sure wasn't for the everyday chap.
Wrecks people’s lives. None of ours are any better for it.”
“Solves nothing. It only gets people killed.”
We had this one co-worker in his late twenties who was a Communist, a bona fide red. He knew politics inside and out, a subject I, nor most everyone else in the tannery, knew much about.
“The uprising must come,” he'd spout, waving his finger at anyone and everyone in proximity. He was a pointer. “The bureaucrats must be beaten. It should be working men from the street ruling the country. We're England’s backbone.”
Some of the things he said made sense, but for the most part no one was interested, myself included. Other then trading a few good jokes, you just want to get on with your work and go home. You don't want to be stuck working next to someone who rabbits on about politics like a religious zealot.
When the Spanish Civil War started, he volunteered to go fight for the Communists. The older men told him he was a fool, that what was in store for him was not some noble crusade. Their words fell on a deaf ear, and within a fortnight management put up a notice that Harold Ogden had been killed in Madrid. He had only been in Spain for four days.
The older men said:
“Served him right. He shouldn’t have gone.”
“That’s what you get for being belligerent. You get killed.”
Sitting there in the lorry, I realized that I was strangling the steering wheel. I glanced at the sergeant. I don’t think he took notice. Then I thought, if I’m killed today my body will just lie there and Germans soldiers will step on it. Or, the lorry will catch fire before we reach that bridge and I’ll burn to a cinder, and then a tank will come and run over the remains leaving nothing of me to bury. What would those blighters at the tannery say if they saw a notice on the bulletin board with my name on it? I had a pretty clear idea and it didn't make me feel good.
"That's another one gone."
"I don't rightly remember."
Lt. Barr's flare shot up toward the circling Kraut spotter planes. The sergeant patted me on the back.
"John, this is where we live or die. Go."
I started the engine and, against my better judgment and all logic, pushed the accelerator down hard.
John Green was captured that day and 24 hours later he and another British soldier escaped their German guards and made it to Dunkirk Beach. While struggling to swim out to the boats, Stukas strafed the water, wounding John and killing the other soldier. Traumatized, John walked off the beach and was recaptured. He had been on Dunkirk Beach for 48 hours. John spent the next five years as a prisoner of war, the last year and a half in E715, the POW work camp that was part of the Auschwitz complex. John and his fellow E715 POWs were the first Allied witnesses to Hitler's "Final Solution."
"I NEVER WANTED TO BE A SOLDIER" is being compiled from 135 hours of audio interviews I conducted with John Green at his home in Warrington, England. Mr. Green passed away last September. He was 90 years old.