Derek Hunnisett 1918-1990
Private, Royal Sussex Regiment
PoW 2359 Stalag 21B, 21A, 20B 1940-1945
Gordon Derek Hunnisett, or Derek as he was always known, was called up in September 1939. He was enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment and after training in Chichester and Seaford was posted to France in April 1940. During May he was sent to Brussels, but after only about a week guarding the British Embassy they were forced to retreat before the advancing German army. Back in France and heading for Dunkirk they were eventually overrun by the Germans after fierce fighting near Hazebrouck on 19 May, during which many of Derek's comrades were killed including his best army pal, Hugh Holford.
Derek was captured and after a few days in a holding camp marched south to Cambrai. During this time he met two of his mates, John Matheson and John Bedford, and, briefly, a friend of his brother Syd, Joe Kerr who lived opposite them in Eastbourne. From Cambrai they were taken by rail in cattle trucks to Trier and then on to Schubin in Poland where they arrived at Stalag XXI A or B on 19 June. Other prisoners at Schubin were John Matheson, John Bedford, Harold Spencer and Shorty Rickard. On 23 June Derek was among a working party of 300 prisoners moved to Poznan Fort VIII, where they worked on the roads until returned to Schubin in August. In September he was picked for another work party, this time at Mogilno where they stayed in an old convent which they were to convert into another PoW camp. After other PoWs joined them they again went out on working parties to work on the roads. Derek's account of this period mentions his mate Jack Baker.
Guards & PoWs at Mogilno - 1940/1
On 5 June 1941 Derek was among a group of prisoners who were transferred to Stalag XX B at Marienburg from where 10 of them were taken on 20 June to work on a farm near Lebanau. Three of the others were Bill Saxby, Jack Baker and Vic Osbourne and there were also two scots referred to as Cassie and Jock. In summer they worked on the farm and in winter in the forest.
On 23 April 1942 the 10 prisoners at Lebanau were transferred to Finkenstein to join about 60 other PoWs billeted in an old brewery. They were to spend almost the next 3 years there working on the farm and in the forest. Everything was owned by Baron von Finkenstein who lived at the local Schloss.
postcard of Schloss Finkenstein stolen from the schloss by Derek!
Some of the prisoners at Finkenstein
As well as those shown in the photograph Derek mentioned Kit Small and Jimmy Briscoe.
On 19 January 1945 they were suddenly rushed back to their billet and told to pack and the following day began the 'March of Death' back to Germany ahead of the advancing Russians. Somehow Derek and many of his pals survived the march and ended up in Neu Brandenburg on 19 February having covered about 350 miles in a month. There he became friendly with an american, James B Bell of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
On 27 April the German guards packed up and moved out and the following night the Russians came. On 17 May they were taken to Schwerin and the following day on to the American base at Luneburg from where they were flown to RAF Dunsford on 19 May.
The above account is taken from an unpublished book which Derek wrote in 1983, based on his memories and diaries which he kept during his military career. The full text with some additional material is now available online at http://lost6years.hunnisett.me.uk/
If you have any connection with my uncle's wartime service, especially his time in captivity, or can identify any of the people in the photographs or mentioned in the text, I would be delighted to hear from you. Please e-mail me,