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Denis Avey

I joined the military in September 1939 at the age of twenty. I was in the desert at the end of 1940 in time for the Italian War. After a ‘forced march’ of 36 hours non-stop we captured over 50,000 Italian and German prisoners. Later, I was wounded, captured and taken to a German A.D.S. (Advanced Dressing Station) where I received excellent treatment by a German Surgeon. I was sent to Benghazi Hospital. Our chaps were pushing west again and I was taken from the hospital and joined other prisoners in a cargo boat, two holds down. The German and Italian troops on the boat ostensibly going on leave. Halfway across the Mediterranean we were hit by 2 torpedoes. I miraculously managed to escape from the hold, by climbing up a rope of a hatch tarpaulin, and dived into the sea which was full of fuel oil. The boat sank within minutes. Buoyant deck cargo floated off the boat and I was able to scramble on top, together with German and Italian Military clinging around the sides. I must have been there for about 48 hours, or even longer. Everyone died of their wounds or exhaustion except for me. I landed on the southern tip of Greece virtually unconscious and eventually received help from a Greek farmer. My skin was completely saturated by oil and it took almost a year to rid myself of it.


After 2 months, been hidden and cared for by this Greek farmer, I was spotted by the Carabinieri (Italian military police), captured again and sent to Cravina in Southern Italy. The food was very poor and we were all infested with lice.  I was there for about a year and then moved with 200 prisoners to a Russian Prisoner of War camp. The conditions were terrible. The camp was rat infested. The Russian P.O.W.’s kept all their dead in the camp to obtain more rations.

From there I was sent to Auschwitz III, known as Monowice, (Monowitz), where I was forced to work from dawn to dusk building the I.G. Farben factory. I was hit in the face with a Luger pistol after flooring a German soldier who was kicking a prisoner to death. I lost an eye.


The stench from the Crematoria was ‘off-putting’ to say the least. Every day at least 7 or 8 Jews and political prisoners were killed.  Their bodies were taken back by prisoners to be counted at camp.

I befriended a Jewish prisoner called Ernst. I changed places on two occasions with a ‘stripy’ to see for myself what was happening in the Jewish quarters. The whole place of Auschwitz was evil.

We were bombed by Americans and 35 of our men died. I helped to dig a communal grave. The grave was bombed and bodies which were recognisable were re-buried at Krakow.


On 15th January 1945 Russian planes destroyed the camp and we were marched off. We were walking over dead bodies for days in snow. We were force-marched for around 600 miles, through Poland, Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. We didn’t have any food and we sheltered in snow holes. In Czechoslovakia I escaped and made my way through Regensburg, to Nuremburg and to the German lines. I stole clothes and food to survive. I was nearly hit by a crashing American plane. One of the crew must have had a baseball bat on board, it was stuck upright in the mud in front of me with some wreckage! I carried it with me, eventually getting to a friendly area controlled by American soldiers. I was sent to Brussels and flew home in a Lancaster.

I spent two years recovering in hospital, suffering from Systemic T.B. and Crohn’s disease.

I would like to add a special tribute to the work of the Red Cross whose food parcels gave the POW’s hope and lifesaving nutrition in equal measure.

By Denis Avey




(for Mr. Denis Avey)


Now he returns for us.

His memories; atrocities, slavery, hunger, cold, stench

and determination.

We try to be there with him, and fail.

You would have to be there to know.

We ask if it is possible to feel love or hate for the perpetrators.

He answers, without malice; indifference.

Years later he was sent a cheque, for the suffering;

Two hundred and four pounds.

He returned it.

They sent him a receipt.

Later, he was sent another cheque, for the suffering;

Thirty-one pounds.

He returned that also.

They sent him another receipt.

Then he returned his medals.

They sent a receipt.

He has never returned to that place,

yet a part of him could never leave.

It is always there.

You can’t get a receipt for something you can’t return.

We listened to his scars,

humbled we had not felt their pain.


F. Philip Holland


Comments from F. Philip Holland

His extraordinary experiences during and since World War two are the ingredients of a legend. All soldiers during that terrible conflict encountered times of bravery, horror, deprivation, courage, injury, hope, tenacity, suffering and death, and though Denis’s story is much in the same vein, it is also rather more.

I believe his ultimate time of extreme hardship came when he was a prisoner in Auschwitz. His suffering there was something that only those who went through that particular hell can testify to. Something that those who perished there cannot say.