Christopher John Erb

Recollections of wartime on a hospital ship.

Hospital ship

During the Second World War Christopher served on hospital ships which transported Prisoners of War. Whilst on board a hospital ship Christopher met a pilot called Ben Cohen. Due to technical problems, Cohen had crash landed on an island off the coast of Italy where Prisoners of War were held. Cohen was taken to the supervisor and feared that he would become a POW. However, the 10,000 Italian troops and prisoners surrendered to the unarmed Cohen. He was unsure how to react. When he telephoned his superiors stationed at Gibraltar they did not believe him and ordered that he return immediately.

Christopher explains that such incidents had an impact upon military tactics. German forces feared that that more troops would surrender, weakening the German effort. Christopher also recalls considering how military tactics and competition affected results. He feels that British troops would have taken ‘millions’ of German prisoners in Sorrento if Clark had not decided to lead the campaign towards Rome.

German POWs

Christopher witnessed the effects of the poor treatment of German POWs.  Whilst serving on a ship in 1946, a prisoner feared that he would be taken to Siberia and threw himself overboard. Another patient who had been promoted to the rank of Major but was demoted when the war ended had attempted to commit suicide. When he did not receive medication to help him sleep he would ‘scream all night.’ He recalls how the ships were attacked towards the end of the war as they contained German and Italian prisoners.


Christopher visited many places whilst in service and received little shore leave. He was away from his family for over 2 years and his girlfriend did not wait for him. His parents did not object to his service on the ship as there was no alternative. He was a good marksman but having undertaken his training he was assigned to the hospital ships.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 28/05/2012.