Largs and Millport News photographer Walter Kerr survived the ordeal of being a Prisoner of War during the Second War War.

Walter, who went on to become the island snapper for over 50 years, was marched by his Nazi captors across FIVE countries to a P.O.W camp in horrifying conditions.

He was an upbeat, friendly and genial individual, but his outward persona masked the secret agony he endured which gave him nightmares and flashbacks in later life.

It was May 1940 during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the rescue of over 300,000 Allied Troops from the onslaught of the Nazi push. 

However, great sacrifice followed as over 60,000 men were caught and either lost their lives or were captured - Walter was one of 16 islanders to be captured at St.Valery, and was held in a Prisoner of War camp in Nazi-held Poland.

Before the outbreak of war, he had joined the territorial army when he was under the requisite age.

A few years before his death, Walter spoke to the ‘News’ about his terrifying ordeal. 
He said: “The war began on September 3 1939 and we left on the 5th. I had joined the Territorials so that I would avoid the draft - I didn’t want to go away for six months. 

“When the war began, I didn’t even have a uniform.”

He was part of an anti-tank unit which was involved in a rearguard action at Dunkirk.

Walter recalled: “We were about to go down one road but a military policeman told us that there were a load of German tanks just down the road.

"The unit eventually found itself in a field outside the razed town of St Valery on the Normandy coast.

“There was a wood in front of us and we could hear the German tanks crashing their way through it.

“An officer then said: ‘Look boys, spike your guns and trucks and then head down to town.The navy will be there to take us off. We spiked our guns, so that they wouldn’t work and headed into St. Valery which had been shelled to bits

“We got to the beach and as I looked out I saw that the tide was out. There were pleasure boats lying on the sand and what looked like a destroyer lying on its side.

"There were no boats in the water and no French in the town. I don’t know what happened to them but I knew we weren’t being rescued.”

The town was surrounded by Germans and the newly formed unit, including many teenagers like Walter was now left without guns to defend themselves.

He said:“Then I heard a bugle - and our unit didn’t have a bugle. The hills were crawling with Germans. One of our officers - a Sergeant Rafferty began to take our names. I asked him if we were about to go for the boats.

He said: ‘No, we are surrendering.’”

The German tank unit then began warning the British unit to ‘surrender or be annihilated’.

The unit had little choice but to surrender. With no guns the soldiers were sitting ducks.

Walter was not initially prepared to give himself up to the Nazis. “I said I’m not surrendering, I’m off”

As an island boy he was all set to take a boat and sail across the English channel.

The officer in charge was unrepentant and said: ‘No, this is an order from the war office. If you disobey the order, you will be court marshalled and shot.’

The unit stood in line as the German tanks came rolling down the hills including German Field Marshal Rommel, one of the most imposing figures in the Nazi regime.

Walter said: “Rommel came down and looked over us with his arms folded. He was quite a decent bloke. He was a soldier and had an admiration for other soldiers.”

The unit was then tied up to prevent escape as the German infantry appeared and was forced to begin its horrendous march across Europe.

Walter revealed: “The blood ran from my boots. We marched through the north of France right through Belgium and Holland in the scorching heat. We had to drink from stinking ponds and the whole unit was rotten with dysentery. When we slept we dropped and lay where we fell.”

They reached the coast where they were put on barges with no toilets and were taken up the Rhine.

Walter said: “Once we arrived at Dortmund we were loaded onto cattle trucks and taken into a POW camp in Soren, Poland.”

Walter was eventually released in May 1945, only to walk into another tank battle, just as he had left one in 1940.

The survivors of the unit then had to suffer a gruelling 13 week march back through East Prussia, walking only in the knowledge that they were free.

Walter sadly passed away in 2007 after a lifetime in photography and never forgot the heavy price that was paid by his comrades.

In 2016, the chairman of the Scottish Ambulance Service, David Garbutt, unveiled a plaque dedicated to Walter and wife Effie, who donated a new state of the art helipad on the Isle of Cumbrae.

Thanks to their generous bequest the islanders now benefit from a facility that allows 24/7 access by air ambulance helicopters without the need for assistance to activate landing lights.