“Errey Leg” made in Prison Camp

“TORONTO DAILY STAR” APRIL 28, 1945 Guild Logo

LEG MADE OF CAMP SCRAP SO GOOD HE CAN PLAY BALL

When Cpl. Donovan Errey of the Canadian army scrambled aboard ship in England for the Dieppe raid, he had a date to marry a pretty Scottish girl.

There are a couple of hundred Canadian, British and United States fighters, all amputation cases, who are very glad the Germans postponed Errey’s wedding day.

For instance, there is Lieut. Bert Shepard, U.S. war veteran, and now with Washington Senators, who was shot down over Berlin. In Toronto there is Flying Officer Frank Haddlesey. D.F.C, of Norwood. Ont.,whose big Lancaster was destroyed by flak during a bombing mission over France.

They and many others who met in Stalag 9C will insist that the Canadian corporal should be rewarded for his work in making artificial limbs for Allied prisoners.

Just a few seconds after he bailed out of his flaming aircraft young Haddlesey knew one of his legs had been shot clean off – above the knee.

When his plane was hit, all Lieut. Shepard could remember before losing consciousness was seeing his own blown-off leg going up in the air.

Neither knew that Corp. Errey, the 24-year-old former Wallaceburg, Ont., Boy Scout was already working eight hours a day in a German prison camp fashioning artificial legs lor Allied “amps.”

Shepard the American and Haddlesey the Canadian were to go through the same process of being moved from hospital to hospital before they met at Stalag 9C. Both were to come in on crutches and to leave surely and confidently, under their own steam, walking on Errey limbs.

U.S. Service medicos are so interested in the simplicity of the Errey leg they plan to use it for a pattern for temporary legs to be shipped to the Pacific for immediate use.

Happy recipients of "Errey Limbs"

HITS BIG LEAGUE

In the repatriation ship in which he came home there were 27 other men on Errey limbs, F.O. Haddlesey recalls.

“Some of them, whose legs were amputated below the knee, were dancing with civilian girls and having a wonderful time – and singing the praises of Errey,” the R.C.A.F. gunner related.

Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, says he intends using Shepard as a pitcher and a pinch hitter. Instead of being out of baseball as a result of losing his leg below the knee, Shepard has jumped from the minors to the majors. The whole team and management were, at first a bit sceptical, “but when I put on a uniform and went out to early training and could throw normally and run the bases they were astounded.”

“Errey was a great guy,” Haddlesey said with enthusiasm. “There was no one in the camp who was better liked. When he first started to make artificial legs, he had a long square piece of iron as a hammer. He had just a lot of odds and ends to work with until a British army captain interested the Red Cross in his work.

USED OLD TIRES, TAPE

“Cpl. Errey could speak German and this helped him a lot. Being more or less on the staff at the camp, the Germans let him go into a nearby village once in a while to buy wood. They’d send a guard with him. He would go into a lumber yard and make a dicker for some wood. He’d haggle with the lumberman for so much wood for so many cigarettes or so much coffee. He got a lot of things that way.”

Scrap metal, lumber, old auto tires and tape were odds and ends Errey was able to scrounge and to bargain for. The Red Cross came through with a sewing machine. The Germans gave him fuel for a stove which he used as a forge in shaping the metal parts for his limbs. Errey was able to obtain photographs of professionally made artificial legs.

“These were just photos showing the legs, from different angles,” Haddlesey reported. “There were no diagrams or blue-prints. He was just able to see what they looked like in the finished state. When I got to the camp, Cpl. Errey had two British army men working for him.They worked a full eight hour day, and by then could make an artificial leg in two weeks. My leg had a good knee joint and an elastic arrangement that pulled the leg back into position after each step.”

MADE 300 LIMBS

Shepard estimates that Cpl. Errey must have made about 300 artificial limbs for Allied prisoners of war. “Every one of those lads will be grateful all their lives. Errey made it possible for us to come home as real men” he declared.

Donovan Errey taken 1986, London, Toronto, Canada, where he lived with his wife Helen Neil.

Donovan Errey taken 1986, London, Toronto, Canada, where he lived with his wife Helen Neil after the war. They had two children.

“It wasn’t easy to overcome the handicap of losing a leg,” the U.S. flier confessed, adding that he went through periods when his morale slipped. “l was determined, though, that 1 was going to make it a go. I can run the bases in 20 seconds flat – only four seconds slower than the players with two legs.”

Although he has a new, professionally made artificial leg, Shepard likes to tell of the time a Nazi general visited the camp. The prisoners with the Errey legs demonstrated for the general how they could get around.

“GOOT. GOOT,” SAYS NAZI

“The Nazi general smiled, rubbed his hands together and said ‘Goot, goot … we Germans are goot to you prisoners. The legs are goot goot . . . ja! ja! I had just finished running around to show him when I heard this. I stepped up and said, ‘sure they’re good buddy, but they are Canadian legs, made in this camp and not German – comprez.’ He did all right, but he was disgruntled and left us very sourly.”
Shepard pays tribute, too, to Capt. Lawery of Aberdeen, a physical training expert, and Dr. Jimmy Sinclair of London, England, who co-operated with Errey in working out the limb and coaxed and cajoled the men into exercising and more exercising.

Today Errey is a free man, back in the United Kingdom. Shepard, Haddlesey and all the others would like to be best men at the corporal’s wedding.

Note: There is a book recently published “My Town: Faces of Windsor” By Marty Gervais
The details are told of Donovan Errey’s War service in prison camp. He was very reluctant to reveal this Story.
The chapter “No Medals, No Ribbons” tells his story in more detail.

Neil Errey