Exploring History

Liberation of Stalag XIB / 357 Fallingbostel POW camp 16th April 1945

Posted on: April 15, 2020

The prisoner of war camp complex at Fallingbostel housed 1000s of prisoners from Britain and other nations. It consisted of several seperate camps and was in use from 1939 untill its liberation on 16th April 1945.

The first British arrived after Dunkirk in 1940 and some spent five years in this or other camps- a situation known as being ‘in the bag’. The Guards Museum has a POW diary from Sergeant G Alder 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards who was captured in 1940 and another from Anthony H Graham Grenadier Guards captured at Anzio in 1944. A large number of Airborne prisoners arrived after being captured at Arnhem in September 1944, and by then the camp was already overcrowded. Among these prisoners was RSM John C Lord, an ex Grenadier Guard. He became a legendary figure because of the discipline and order he restored to the camp, giving many men who had given up a sense of purpose.

RSM John Lord (forth in from left) shortly after liberation

Conditions were generally tolerable and the main enemy of those who were otherwise healthy was boredom and the mental health issues that came from the lack of freedom. However, by 1945 the influx of prisoners from the Battle of the Bulge and the break down of the German supply system brought food and accommodation shortages.

Things worsened for most of the able-bodied prisoners in April when they were marched off to begin a 200km journey on foot in terrible weather with little food or shelter. In addition to the deprivation in a cruel twist of fate they were attacked by RAF Typhoon fighters which mistook them for German troops. Eventually, their guards melted away and they made contact with British troops at the start of May.

Meanwhile, at the camps the German management had collapsed and the prisoners were running things. When British tanks from the 8th and 11th Hussars arrived at XI B on 16th April a smartly turned out group led by RSM Lord met them. Things were worse at 357 which had a high number of sick men.

British troops arrive at the camps
POWs celebrate their liberation

The POWs had to make do till supplies and transport arrived for them and also had to maintain order in the neighbouring area, at one point protecting the town and camps from rampaging Soviet prisoners. The British prisoners left the camp towards the end of April and began their journey home.

Interestingly, this may not have been the last time some of them saw Fallingbostel. During the Cold War the area was a major British base and Guards Regiments passed through on a number of occasions.