Ashton Vale man’s wartime ‘great escapes’

March 02 2020
Ashton Vale man’s wartime ‘great escapes’

When war broke out, Robert, who lived in Swiss Drive, Ashton Vale, was called to France with his unit, and in 1940 was fighting the advancing German troops when they found themselves surrounded and captured.

by Marcus Stone
When Chris Hunt, grandson of wartime hero Robert Henry Easterbrook, used tales of his grandfather’s wartime exploits to bring to life a computer tutoring session he was running in Ashton, it captured the interest of keen amateur wartime enthusiast Patrick Chaffey.  Patrick contacted South Bristol Voice to share this amazing, yet relatively unknown story of wartime heroism.
Robert, known to his army colleagues as Bobby, not only managed to escape as a prisoner of war on three occasions, but also organised a resistance force of around 150 men. When back in England he received a Distinguished Conduct Medal.
When war broke out, Robert, wh ,lived in Swiss Drive, Ashton Vale, was called to France with his unit, and in 1940 was fighting the advancing German troops when they found themselves surrounded and captured. He was rounded up, along with local civilians and placed in a civilian refugee camp where he managed to crawl out with another prisoner. They got over 80 miles away before being apprehended by a German patrol. They were then sent to a work camp in Cambrai, France.
When he was out on a working party he persuaded the guard to look for wine in a cellar so he could escape once more.  Sadly he was recaptured shortly afterwards.
Sent on a train bound for Germany, Bobby and another prisoner managed to climb out of the window and jumped onto the track. They then went to Eindhoven where he asked for assistance, but instead was betrayed to the Germans, leading to him being sent to Thorn and the Stalag prisoner of war camp.
At the start of May 1943, when he was waiting to be sentenced for striking a guard, he managed to exchange identities with another prisoner and the next day volunteered for a working party on the railway. Accompanied by another PoW they escaped and were offered hospitality locally.
Over the next eight months he played a key role in the resistance, helping organise a Polish group of around 150 men, and carrying out acts of sabotage.  He became well-known in the villages, which led to the Germans offering a reward for information on his whereabouts.
When one of his colleagues was shot, he travelled to Warsaw where he was unfortunately betrayed and arrested. In a struggle he broke away from the two armed guards and was wounded, but still managed to escape. His reputation preceded him, and when he got to the outskirts of Warsaw the resistance movement invited him to continue his work with the partisans.
Chris said: “While I don’t think of my grandfather as a hero as such, there is no doubt that all his actions were extremely heroic. I’m sure more people will be inspired to hear of his exploits during the war, that must have made a big difference to the resistance and war efforts overall.”