John William Elliott

John William Elliott

John William Elliott (known as Jack) was born on the 12th September 1920 in Bedford

When he left school Jack went to work at the Shire Hall, Bedford where he worked in the “Restriction of Development” Department, all to do with the way that housing was taking up of too much of the countryside in 1936. What would they think now I wonder!!

As a young man Jack was a very keen Radio Ham and spent a lot of time conversing with other users. He built his own transmitter.

In 1939 when the war was imminent, young men were told that they had a duty to fight for their country and so Jack joined the Territorial Army and on the “call up” he was sent to Dursley in Gloucestershire where he joined the Royal Corps of Signals, as a signalman, because of his knowledge of and interest in radios.

He was sent to France and from there he wrote home about what they were doing. All mail was censored and sent back to the sender to be altered if something was mentioned that would harm the war effort. At the time of Dunkirk, in Saint Omer, he was taken prisoner with others by the Germans and they were sent in cattle trucks to Poland which took many days. Jack was reported missing at Dunkirk, but his family felt sure that he was alive. Many months later the Red Cross wrote to his family to say that Jack was a prisoner. Jack’s wireless set at his home showed a tiny green light when switched on, but it had not worked at all for many, many months. However, the day that his family were informed that he was safe and a prisoner of war, the green light glowed again!!

Jack was sent to Stalag V111B, Teschen. The prisoners were put to work doing various labouring jobs, working in a coal mine, a salt mine and also some farming work. Sometimes the local farm girls would give the lads an egg which was then hidden between two pieces of hollowed out wood placed together to look like an ordinary piece of wooden plank, which they then could return to camp with. The Red Cross managed to get parcels of clothing etc. sent from home to the lads. Jack was able to send post cards back home. At one time he wrote to say that he could see Jo on his steam roller. This was his way of letting his family know that the prisoners knew of the Russian Joseph Stalin’s progress in the war. They gleaned bits of information from new prisoners who joined the camp from time to time. It was so cold at times that no matter how many clothes or balaclavas they had; the cold would always get through.

On one occasion, one of Jack’s fellow prisoners had done something to make the guards lock him up in solitary confinement. Jack set to, with a piece of packaging from a red cross parcel, to make a small chute which he used to pour drinks of tea down through the keyhole to his mate to drink. Jack’s act of mercy was found out and he was himself put into solitary confinement. All the lads developed a half turn look over their shoulders all the time, to see if they were being watched by the “goons” lurking around. (That was the name they used for the German guards). This was something that he still did even after the war. Jack was a prisoner for almost all of the war.

When the end of the war was in sight, the prisoners at his camp were told at bayonet point, to start marching on what was known as the ”Long March” or the “Lamsdorf Death March” from Poland towards France. They suffered from dysentery and starvation, they ate rotten potatoes etc. and were walking “on their uppers” as they called it, having worn out their soles of their shoes. When they reached the border of Germany and France, they were subjected to many bombing raids. They hid in ditches in fear of their lives once again. The Red Cross found them eventually and they provided tins of sweetened condensed milk to drink, which were passed down the line of men, each taking a few sips at a time and then passing it on to the next man.

Once back in the UK, he was sent to Morpeth in Northumberland whilst his demobilisation papers were sorted out. When jack got home, he once again worked on his radio circuits and got in touch with radio hams in all parts of the World. He resumed his work at the Shire Hall and married in 1948. He had a son in 1950.

Jack collapsed at work and died in hospital from a brain tumour on the 8th December 1957 aged just 37 years old.  He was cremated on the 13th December 1957.


Memorial Plaque of John William ELLIOTT who died 8th December 1957 at the age of 37 years.
Plaque ref: Circular Wall (CW) 50.

Information prepared and written by Hilary Simpson, (he was her uncle), August 2021, together with family photographs.

Plaque CW (Circular Wall). 50 – Colin Woolf, Friend of Bedford Cemetery.
August 2021



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