The courageous Sunderland soldier who lost an arm - and then joked with his Nazi interrogators

A rare image of Sunderland in 1939.
A rare image of Sunderland in 1939.

An ultra-brave Wearside man didn’t flinch under the pressure of German interrogation

In fact, Private Alfred Pike of the Durham Light Infantry even joked about how he’d lost his arm in battle – telling his captors he’d been biting his nails too much!

Bridge Street in Sunderland during a 1939 blackout.

Bridge Street in Sunderland during a 1939 blackout.

The remarkable story of humour in the face of adversity was first revealed in a Sunderland Echo story in June 1944.

Now, 75 years on, his story has been unearthed among the Echo’s news coverage which made headlines on or around D-Day.

Private Pike, then 24 and from the Hendon area,  actually lost his arm in the Battle for Tunis in 1943.

He was held prisoner by the Germans and taken to a field dressing station for treatment. He spent most of his time in an Italian hospital but found himself among a batch of people due to be repatriated when the Italian armistice was signed.

The 1944 Sunderland Echo story on Private Pike

The 1944 Sunderland Echo story on Private Pike

But he and his comrades were taken off the train bound for home when his camp commandant refused to open the gates. Instead, he was handed over to Germans and taken to a Nazi camp.

The Echo report of 1944 said: “An illustration of the spirit and sense of humour which the men maintained is contained in the story of Pike’s experience with an interrogation officer in Germany.

“Pike, together with his comrades had been feeling the pinch of food shortage for some time and when the officer asked how he lost his arm, Pike replied: ‘Biting my finger nails’.”

The DLI soldier’s story only came to light after his return to Wearside.

When he got home, he told the Echo how English prisoners had been selling cigarettes to the Germans whose rations were restricted to three cigarettes a day.

He said that it was difficult to gauge the morale of the enemy as no Germans dared to speak to the English soldiers because it would have meant four years imprisonment for them.

He also re-told the story of one German who had come to the prison camp that he was in at the time in Austria. The Berliner complained that the way the Allies were bombing Berlin was not fair.