BEATINGS and starvation — these were just some of the atrocities a Newport prisoner of war (PoW) witnessed when detained in a sub-camp of Auschwitz extermination camp.

John (known as Jack) Haynes, of Cwm Lane, Newport, turned 100 years a few weeks ago, and the momentous occasion convinced his family to encourage him to speak out for the first time of his ordeals in the Second World War.

Born in Newport, Mr Haynes was called up to participate in the armed forces as part of conscription.

“I remember it like yesterday,” said the centenarian.

“I signed up in Rodney Road and that was before war broke out.

“It was in January 1940 that I would be called up to defend this country. I was put in the Royal Engineers.”

Following deployments to Sierra Leone and Egypt, the 21-year-old was eventually posted to Libya.

However, he arrived during the midst of the North African Campaign, where Nazi Germany’s Erwin Rommel was tasked with helping to extend the Axis powers' grip across the whole of the country.

The brutal two-year offensive would cost in excess of 90,000 lives – with countless others taken captive.

Mr Haynes was captured by German officers in Tobruk, Libya on June 22, 1942.

“We were in a jeep when we came across a German soldier,” he recalled.

“The soldier told us to put our hands up and we had no choice but to do so.

“When we were taken, I felt apprehensive over what would happen.”

He, alongside his fellow soldiers, was then transferred to Benghazi and held in the city for one month.


The soldiers then had to endure scorching temperatures, as well as starvation and dehydration.

“We had no food or water for days,” he said.

“The only water we could find was a pool, with camels in the middle. We had no choice but to drink it.

“We had nothing else.”

The PoWs were then sent to Italy, before being crammed into cattle trucks headed for Nazi-occupied Poland.

With no food, water or anywhere to use as a toilet, the harrowing experience still clearly hangs from Mr Haynes’ memory.

“It was awful,” he said.

“We all had to go to the toilet in the same place.

“There were 60 men in there. We were in there for three days and were all forced to be stood up.

“I did begin to question what was going to happen to us?”

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But the worst of his horrors was about to unfold, when the PoW arrived at Blechhammer Camp, in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The camp had been established that year and was originally designed to hold incarcerated Jews and Poles. PoWs of various nationalities were also held at the site.

Inmates were kept in squalid and wholly appalling conditions, with no washing facilities. The site would eventually be adapted into a satellite sub-camp for the infamous Auschwitz extermination camp, which carried out mass slaughter daily.

“They made us work long hours,” said Mr Haynes.

“I lost my finger in an accident during one of the days.”

Mr Haynes also spoke of atrocities committed at the site.

He said: “I saw a person tied to barbed wire.

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“I saw Jews being beaten up.

“I remember, in particular, a young Jewish boy being punched to the floor. When he stood up he was covered in blood.

“It was awful.”

He added: “I saw lots of terrible things at the various camps I was held in. I was also held in Camp 344.”

The following year saw Mr Haynes move locations again - this time to the unfamiliar Nazi Germany.

But by January 1945 the tide had turned against the Axis powers – Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan.

A vengeful Soviet Union began sweeping across Nazi terrority from the east, with British and American troops approaching from the west, causing the belligerent nation’s military force to crumble.

As a result, German officials began to frantically move PoWs and other prisoners deeper into Germany — these became known as death marches.

Mr Haynes was forced to march almost 1,000 miles in the harshest of conditions to Bavaria.

“They would lock us up in barns,” said Mr Haynes.

“The cold was brutal.

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But everything changed one morning, when Mr Haynes and other POWs came out of a barn.

“We noticed all the soldiers had gone,” he said.

“This was between March and May 1945. The German soldiers had fled because the war was coming to an end.

“We then ended up in deserted airfield, where we were told that the war was over.”

And this week marked the 74th anniversary that Mr Haynes arrived back in Newport.

It is without question that Mr Haynes saw horrors that the naked eye should never witness.

And like many past events there is a hope that sheer horrors will never be repeated.