Destined to Survive: A Dieppe Veteran's Story
Contains Photos, Illustrations
David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.
Jack Poolton was captured at Dieppe in August 1942 and spent nearly
three years as a POW in Germany. Assigned to working parties throughout
his capture, he dedicated himself to acts of sabotage and several
attempts at escape. Finally, the prisoners were sent on the “Death
March” during the German retreat from the Russian offensive of January
1945. On April 11 of that year they were liberated by the Americans on
the River Elbe. At liberation, Poolton weighed a mere 80 pounds.
Almost 50 years later, Poolton’s daughter wrote down his story
exactly as he told it. Acute perceptions, strong narrative, repetitions,
grammatical mistakes, and erroneous impressions are all blended together
in this outstanding memoir of a farm boy from Kapuskasing. Destined to
Survive is a vital contribution to the raw material of serious history.
Of particular interest is the account of life in a German POW camp. It
has become fashionable to portray German society of World War II as
wholly corrupted by Naziism. Poolton’s memoir tends to reflect this
view. German troops shot the badly wounded on the beaches of Dieppe,
denied the walking wounded medical treatment, and kept the Canadian
prisoners in chains. Toward Poolton guards and civilians alike exhibited
nothing but arrogance, meanness, and contempt. He witnessed the
appalling treatment meted out to Polish and Russian prisoners. The one
act of kindness came from a 12-year-old boy who was subsequently
assaulted by a German guard.
Back in England, the hospital matron took one look at Jack and asked,
her voice breaking, “What have they done to you, boy?” The answer is
in this memoir.