Friday, May 17, 2013


There is no record of who the three British Other Ranks were, although it is highly probable that British MI-9 which conducted interviews with every returning POW, has a record of their names, and it clearly was not a secret within the POW camps that men had been taken to Katyn.  Unfortunately, the intransigent unwillingness of the British to declassify and make available such materials remains unabated.

However, Frank Stroobant, the civilian from Guernsey, he, who had not only worn his best suit (thinking that he would thus appear to be more serious – he must have been concerned about his youth and also possibly his lack of education) but had also written his will prior to leaving to Katyn wrote about these events as well as his return.

This elegant attire had not served him well, however, and when he arrived in Berlin, Colonel Stevenson took care to advise him of the possibility of being charged under the ‘Defense of the Realm’ act (the Treachery Act had not yet been passed) if only there existed an inkling of supposition that he had collaborated with the Germans.
By dressing in my best suit, with a collar and tie, I had hoped to give the impression that I was a respectable British citizen, rather than a scruffy internee.  Possibly I looked too smart and it may have been that they believed me to be a collaborator

Stroobant had clearly been afraid of this trip. Bearing in mind the worst options that could occur, Stroobant prepared his will before departing from Laufen:
Not knowing when I would be called upon,… I made all preparations for a prolonged absence from Laufen at best, or at worst, my non-return. 

The few odd shillings I had left in Guernsey I bequeathed to my wife, in a properly attested will, and handed the document for safe keeping to Len Collins, my best friend, and secretary to the Camp Senior. As usual ribald suggestions were made about how I should dispose of my spare underpants and other personal belongings, and it was agreed that they should be left untouched for four weeks, after which lots should be drawn.

Stroobant returned to Laufen, only to discover that during his weeklong absence, a new Camp Senior had been elected.  This was Ambrose Sherwill, who had held various government posts in Guernsey both prior to and after the war, and had earlier been held in Paris.  Shortly after that, Stroobant became involved with a group which had used stolen materials to construct the ‘Forbidden Whisper’ a radio receiver.  Each night Stroobant listened to the BBC for some 4-5 hours, taking notes by the ‘light’ of a 3 watt bulb, which information was then copied and circulated through the camp, serving as their main source of news.  The ‘Forbidden Whisper’ became Stroobant’s closest companion, which he guarded at all costs, so close, that when he was returning to the British Isles, he could not imagine leaving it behind in Laufen, and took it with him.  One wonders if perhaps the Forbidden Whisper had actually been constructed prior to mid-April of 1943 and whether, like the military men, this civilian had first learned about Katyn through that radio.

After the war, the former internees were not allowed to return directly to their homes; instead they remained in England, from whence they left after several months.  The question naturally arises, were the internees debriefed upon their return from Germany. 

© Krystyna Piórkowska