How British POW known as The Music Maker was forced to play for Nazi conquerors
A British drum major who was captured by the Nazis during World War II and then forced to give concerts in which he told the horrors he had undergone in a secret war diary that has now been published.
Henry Barnes Jackson, known for his prison guards as Kapellmeister – or The Music Maker – was 40 years old when he went to France as a hospik in the British Expeditionary Force before being captured during the return trip to Dunkirk.
Beaten by a series of POW camps, Jackson was beaten, starved, and bullied by the guards – until they found out he could play music, at which point he was given instruments and ordered to perform concerts for them.
Towards the end of the war Jackson was in Blechhammer, a sub-camp of Auschwitz, 40 miles from the main camp, where he witnessed some horrors of the first-hand Holocaust.
Despite being forced over the Austrian Alps for 20 days as the Russian approached Blechhammer, Jackson survived the war after being found by American troops – he only wore rags and kept his diary.
After the war, he returned to Whitehaven, Cumbria, where his wife and four daughters waited for him. Years later, one of his granddaughters collected his diaries and revealed his story to the world.
British drum major Henry Barnes Jackson spent five years as a prisoner of the Nazis, was subjected to brutal treatment in various POW camps – including a sub-camp of Auschwitz – and forced to play music for his captors. He kept a secret diary of his experiences that has now been published. In the background Jackson (center) directs a band in one of the camps
Jackson (on the right, with his wife Mabel) was 40 when he ended up in France with the British Expeditionary Force, where he served as a hawk in the fight against the Nazis. But he was captured on the return trip to Dunkirk after his ambulance took the wrong turn and was surrounded by Germans
Jackson tells how he was taken on a death march to a prisoner-of-war camp in occupied Poland where he received terrible treatment until his abductors heard of his musical talents – at which time he was given instruments and told to give concerts. Here POWs see how Jackson and his band practice
In a journal entry, Jackson tells how some men dressed as women for a show and said: & # 39; I have never seen better female impersonators & # 39 ;. For this performance, their repertoire included & # 39; Light Cavalry & # 39 ;, & # 39; Florentiner March & # 39 ;, & # 39; Ave Maria & # 39; and & # 39; Wine, Women and Song & # 39;
As a result of the brutal treatment they suffered, some of Jackson's bandmates tried to escape. To conceal an escape with his violinist, Jackson found a man to replace him for their performance. He wrote: & # 39; It was great to know that we were outsmarting Jerry, if only in a small way, and the orchestra played better than I ever heard! & # 39;
In his extraordinary story, Jackson remembers the day he was imprisoned, saying he was in an ambulance with injured men who took a wrong turn and were surrounded by German troops.
& # 39; We are instructed to disassemble, and a Jerry officer points me in and points me to him, & # 39; he wrote.
& # 39; He tells me to take off my gun belt and throw my gun away. He throws me in the face with the butt of his gun and my head bounces in response to the loud bang, blood dripping from my nose.
& # 39; He takes two steps towards me and slaps my cheek and then, in broken English, he mocks: & # 39; far from Tipperary, a long way now, huh? & # 39;
His eyes flash over my lack of response and he keeps beating me, his face twisted with hatred and disgust, saliva flies out of his ugly mouth. Then he orders me to stand against a wall. This is it. I feel that my time is up.
& # 39; The Jerry officer leans forward and picks up my gun. He grins his gun behind him. I watch as he puts my own gun on my head. I have been in critical situations many times in my life, but I never felt that I was about to face my Maker.
& # 39; My eyes rise with tears of deep regret as I pray that I will live to tell my dear dear how deeply I love her but as I stare through the barrel of my own gun, I doubt that my prayers will be answered. & # 39;
Miraculously, the Nazi officer who aimed the gun at Jackson was distracted at the last minute by the gold watch glittering in the pocket of the drummer.
Jackson handed it over and started taking care of his men, constantly afraid of a bullet from behind, which luckily had never arrived. He spent the evening helping the desperately wounded soldiers and tried not to think too much about the fact that he was now a prisoner of war.
& # 39; We are instructed to invade, and we start with what we call prisoners, for obvious reasons, such as The Nightmare March, & # 39; says Jackson & # 39; s journal entry, the day after his capture.
& # 39; There are many horrific incidents that happen on this march that I will remember from these memoirs, but in my life, I swear they will never be forgotten – and never forgiven.
Many of Jackson & # 39; s comrades either took their own lives during their imprisonment or died otherwise due to illness and malnutrition. He was often called upon to play The Last Post while they were buried
& # 39; When the sun rises it gets hot and we are all dry. The French townspeople bless them, place buckets of water on the side of the road and it is a struggle to have a drink before the merciless guards come by and hit the buckets with a single shame. They wish us dead. It makes it easier for them.
& # 39; The Jerry guards are absolute bastards. They find it funny to stop us British prisoners while allowing the French to move far ahead before they let us run to catch up with the Frogs.
& # 39; Of course, many poor guys are barely able to walk, let alone run, and they have to drop out. Upon hearing photos, we know all too well what has become of them, every shot of the gun reflected off our bodies as we trudge on, thoughts of our fallen comrades a terrible burden to bear. & # 39;
After dawdling for miles without food, little water and the demoralizing loss of friends and colleagues to the German artillery, Jackson eventually landed in a flooded, disease-free train to camp Schubin in occupied Poland.
& # 39; I can't describe the horror & # 39 ;, he wrote.
& # 39; The stink of destructive bodies. I feel like I'm one of the walking dead, but I manage to reach the camp that I am told has been my home for a long time. We are aware that there are no barracks available for us. No tents, no blankets.
& # 39; The conditions here are shocking and the food indescribably terrible and poor. It is difficult to continue, and many do not, succumb to dysentery, which is a terribly painful and humiliating condition to suffer. We are all in a dirty state.
Hitte The heat is unbearable, made more by the stretch of human waste. Men are starting to die like flies all around me. I can imagine that this is not only due to physical exhaustion as a result of the difficult journey here and hunger and illness, but to the enormous mental anxiety caused by the cruelty of Jerry, which is starting to increase daily.
& # 39; I notice that I attend more and more funerals, often as a coffin bearer. Today it is a guy who died as a result of a working group. The Jerry guards say he died of pneumonia, but as I march past the makeshift coffin, the blood flows off and bloody gelatinous globules drip into my boots.
& # 39; I feel my chest rising and deflating with anger, and I strangle a scream of injustice, knowing that if I start protesting, I will be shot. & # 39;
During the horrors that unfold before the eyes of the drum lord, music is his one consolation and he says that he does everything he can to cheer himself and the men around him, many of whom feel completely devoid of hope.
A POW funeral is attended by Jackson. Despite his enormous suffering as the war continued, Jackson became aware that there were more prisoners – mostly Jews – whose treatment was worse than his. He wrote: & # 39; Their lives are worth absolutely nothing – the Jews – less than the rats that ravage the camp & # 39;
Despite the mud and misery to which Jackson was exposed, he said he enjoyed playing music for his fellow prisoners of war, always watching them in the crowd as he took his bow, instead of the Nazi officers on the be in the front row
Jackson (seated in the middle) kept the pet kitten of his battalion outside the barracks, Blechhammer 1943. Blechhammer was a subcamp of Auschwitz, 40 miles from the main camp. At its peak, it had around 4,000 people, of which about 200 died. Another 800 were shot on a forced march as the Russian approached, and a few hundred are reportedly killed in Auschwitz after being selected to go there
& # 39; I'm glad I am blessed with this God-given talent for music; to entertain the boys and to see the joy and hope in their eyes; eyes that may soon be filled with nothing but fear before they are filled with nothing but lifelessness.
& # 39; I keep reminding myself that if I can survive this, I can survive anything, and I want to take that attitude back to England and hand it over to my girls.
& # 39; Music is my saving grace and although I cannot play due to the lack of musical instruments, I spend a lot of time thinking, singing and composing music. For me, where there is music, there is hope.
& # 39; You should have seen the spirits in the camp float when our company received musical instruments and music magazines from the Red Cross. & # 39;
Jackson spent the next few months organizing concert parties and shows with great praise. To his dislike, he was often made to play for the pleasure of his victor.
A passage in his war diary reads: & # 39; Some boys dress as & # 39; girls for choral work and I have never seen better female impersonators. Some pieces that we play are: & # 39; Light Cavalry & # 39 ;, & # 39; Florentiner March & # 39 ;, & # 39; Ave Maria & # 39; and & # 39; Wine, Women and Song & # 39 ;.
& # 39; The Jerries, seated in the front rows of the concerts, are rays of pleasure to be entertained, but it is the faces of our boys that we focus on and bow to them for their applause. & # 39;
However, this flicker of light relief was in stark contrast to the debilitating daily routine of the prison.
Jackson was often called upon to attend funerals – many of the prisoners have taken their own lives – where he used his musical talents to honor them with renditions of The Last Post.
Meanwhile, he began to realize that other people were subjected to much worse atrocities than him. He wrote: & # 39; We hear that they decided last month that (the Nazis & # 39; s) the Jews should be completely exterminated.
& # 39; I can't imagine how they can & hate the Jews, nor how they ever imagine they can simply wipe out an entire race of people. There are still rumors about the treatment of the Jews, some of which are really disturbing, and I also hear more and more horror about shocking experiments with poor beggars in the name of science. & # 39;
Fearing for their lives, Jackson reveals how some tried to escape, efforts he helped in whatever way he could.
& # 39; One of my violinists escaped two weeks ago with two other men & # 39 ;, says the diary of the prisoner of war on 29 May 1943.
& # 39; The other two men were captured the next day, but my violinist is still free. The night he escaped from my orchestra was to give a concert at the next camp, so to cover his escape, I had to take another clerk to the concert to play the escaped violin.
Camp Warthelager, located in Poland occupied by the Nazis, is seen during the snow. This is one of the first camps where Jackson was detained after his imprisonment and where he spent two years between October 1940 and March 1942.
With only one soup meal per day, provided by the Nazis, the prisoners of war relied on food packages from the Red Cross to survive. Jackson (sitting highest) wrote in his diary: & # 39; God bless the Red Cross! & # 39;
After Nazi Germany fell prey to the joint Allied and Russian attack, Jackson was freed and returned to his family (pictured in 1947) with his diary and was warned to never talk about what he had seen. Years later, his diary was handed over to one of his granddaughters who has now published his bill
& # 39; We had already arranged all this and were very well organized, although the replacement of my violinist was not a particularly good player, but the rest of the orchestra just drowned him out, and Jerry didn't seem to notice.
& # 39; It was great to know that we were outsmarting Jerry, if only in a small way, and I think the orchestra played better than I ever heard them! Anyway, my violinist got a good head start and our boys talked about him for hours and sent their prayers. & # 39;
Unfortunately the violinist was found and he returned to the camp a few weeks later on & # 39; a terrible way & # 39 ;. His final destiny is unknown.
In 1944 Jackson writes how he and several others were moved to a labor camp in the Blechhammer area, a sub-camp of Auschwitz – a & # 39; celestial camp & # 39; called because nobody comes out alive.
& # 39; We are passing a concentration camp for the civilian population and all prisoners are terribly emaciated and have shaved their heads. It is indeed a pathetic sight, & Jackson says.
& # 39; Their life is worth absolutely nothing – the Jews – less than the rats that ravage the camp. It is now fairly common knowledge that the Jews are being massively killed.
& # 39; We have that camp & # 39; Heaven Camp & # 39; named because nobody leaves it alive. The Jews are absolutely terrified of being brought there for obvious reasons.
& # 39; A train goes right through the camp. Every Jew who is too ill for his work, who is too weak, too old or too young, gets rid of it. When the Jews arrive, it is assumed that they have been given a towel, told to get rid of it, and told that they are going to bathe, but there are rumors that it turns out to be a deadly room. This mass murder is simply unthinkable for us. & # 39;
After four years in Nazi captivity, the word Jackson reached in the summer of 1944 that the Allies had successfully invaded France and the war tide was turning.
Months later – after another deadly march in the cold and snow to avoid the advancing Russian army and a posting to another horrible prisoner of war camp – Jackson ended up in an Austrian shed, on the verge of death.
But moments before he collapsed, Jackson was found by an American soldier looking after him.
After being nursed for his injuries and malnutrition, Jackson was able to return home to the warm embrace of his family. Anesthetized, but delighted with his own freedom, Jackson still felt a sense of burning indignation about the inhuman treatment he sees in the Nazi camps.
& # 39; At the end of May 1945, we heard that Heinrich Himmler (a mister who helped orchestrate & # 39; The Final Solution & # 39; and the death of 6 million Jews) had committed suicide through a cyanide capsule. This raged us all because we remembered his many monstrous actions during the war, especially Jews.
& # 39; We have only just begun to learn from the truly sadistic treatment of the Jews who were so brutally attacked by an insane leader and his elite group of madmen.
& # 39; With so many others in the upper part of the Nazi party killed by their own hands, we were all looking forward to seeing Heinrich Himmler have his day in court — and what a day that would have been. Not to mention how he should suffer in prison.
& # 39; But Himmler had taken the coward away. My heart cried for humanity. & # 39;
Adapting to civilian life, Jackson struggled to understand what had happened to him in the five years he spent under lock and key among the Nazis.
& # 39; The officers who repatriated us had advised us not to discuss our war experiences with our loved ones, & # 39; he noted in one of the last entries of the diary.
& # 39; They said that it was impossible for us to expect someone who would not have personally felt through such indescribable horrors to identify with them. They told us to forget the war – to put it in a padlock box and to push it into our minds. Said we should forget what we had seen – the atrocities, the losses of our partners, the mental tension, the deprivation and the torture.
& # 39; Well, that was all very good for them to say, but how did one ever experience such a thing? How did someone just forget? Oh, I wanted it. I really wanted it and, like most guys, I vowed never to talk about the war again. But I'm afraid there are memories everywhere. & # 39;
Drum Major The story of Henry Barnes Jackson is told in The Music Maker, a compilation of his war diary, published by his granddaughter Jaci Byrne and published by Pen And Sword Books. Available to order here.
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