TORTURE MARCH: The Last Mile To Luckenwalde
Saturday January 29, 1945 – 9pm. It started when some one in the passage shouted “be ready to leave the camp in 1 hour.” This wasn’t entirely unexpected but it was entirely unwanted. A day or so previous the Russians reached Steinan about 35 miles away on the Oder. And we we’re hoping they’d soon reach Sagan and us, but such was not the case. We hurried by packed our kit and as many cigarettes as we could carry. Still there we’re millions in the camp. Thousands were burned or rendered useless in other ways. The amount of clothing, pictures, souvenirs, food, etc. left behind was colossal. Despite ½ parcels, our cook had a goodly supply in the cupboard which we split 11 ways giving each man about 15 lbs. of
food. Then we were told we weren’t leaving for another hour, so we made a sleigh for our kit. Another hour went by and still no move so we cooked some meat we got from the cook house and had a real good feed. Then I went and visited my friends in various huts. Every one was in high spirits although I don’t know why. Then in the west camp of over 2,000 Americans moved out. And then about 2am, amid great confusion and flap, we left our camp. First we went to the parcel store and got a red x parcel for each man. To get these on our sleigh we had to throw a lot of clothing off. Then we pulled our greatly over loaded sleigh out onto the road and started on our
way. It was a clear, cold winter nite, and just right for sleighing. In the moon light you could see thousands of P.O.W.’s ahead and many more were still to come. Everyone had a sleigh hastily lashed together out of hockey sticks and red cross boxes or anything at all from chairs, tables or beds. Soon the circuit lights of the camp began to fade in the distance and somehow I sort of wished I was back there, I sort of figured we might have a rough time ahead but I didn’t know the half of it. The first thing I noticed on the way was the great amount of clothing and food that was being discarded, many sleighs had broken and the follows had left all except blankets, some food and cigarettes. I noticed many Red x parcels
torn open, the biscuits, sugar, jam and chocolate removed and the rest ditched. A lot of civilians we’re out on the road. Asking for cigarettes and picking up what the fellows had discarded. A lot of them were women, the first I had seen for 10 months, and some of the boys, years. We marched all nite, stopping occasion[a]lly to rest. The odd truck went past us and a lot of trucks and buses all going east, laden with white clad troops. All nite we marched through forrest country, and dawn found us in a small town where we rested a while and ate some breakfast of frozen spam or biscuits. We took the opportunity of this
stop to lighten our load and 7,000 cigarettes, clothing, a pair of skates and other things were discarded, to the delight of German “Civvies”. Then we marched out of the town and onto a flat open road. The wind was very bitter and you had to march to keep warm. One of the Guards told us we had only a few more miles and we would have a rest with all comforts. On, and on we went. It was good sleighing but we were getting a bit tired. We passed village after village. The boys with sleighs were doing ok except the odd one was falling to bits and they had to shoulder their kit and also ditch a lot of weight. The boys who had left with all their stuff on their backs,
were getting pretty tired and I noticed many of them stopping to rest and come up with the next party behind us, for we were stretched out for miles. We were doing all right with our 1 man sled (it was the biggest I saw on the march). We took turns pulling it so ½ the time we were just walking empty. Most of the guards carried their own kit and it sure looked heavy, many of them looked ready to drop and they weren’t making the trip as well as the average P.O.W. Before the trip was finished I noticed some of them sharing the same sled as P.O.W.’s. About noon we reached the out-skirts of the town we were to rest at. I believe the name of it was HALBAU. We entered the town and pulled up in a big market square, which was then
full of P.O.W.’s but in 1/2 hour later had 5 times as many in it. The comforts we got there consisted of hot water. so we sat in the snow, made a hot brew, and ate a Spam sandwich and some biscuits from our parcel. It was too cold to rest and impossible to get inside anywhere so we just hung around. I went through the crowd, looking for friends. I found them all doing ok, a lot of bartering was going on with the Civvies who were very friendly towards us. Such things as bread, and sleighs were bought for cigarettes. (You could buy anything for cigarettes.) Then we were told we would spend the rest of the day there and night in barns, theatres etc. which sounded very good. Some of the boys even got in buildings and
to sleep when we had to leave the town because refugees would be coming in. So we pulled out very foot sore and weary. On the out skirts of the town we passed the west camp who were resting as best as possible in the snow. Everybody’s feet were soaking wet and the snow was loose, about 3” deep. You could see the snow melting on your boots from the heat of your feet, it was very miserable. It was now very cold, snowing and blowing and we marched till dark and stopped in an open place just outside a small town. We stood there for 3 hours waiting while they found barns for us to sleep in. That was the worst 3 hours I’d ever spent. We had been out side some 18 hours with very little to eat and marched
about 38 kilometers with pack so some of the boys were pretty tired. Final(l)y we got into a barn. It was pitch dark and sever(e)ly cold, so we just lay in the hay, pulled our blankets over us and tried to sleep. I half slept for several hours but it was too cold. I don’t think anybody slept well, many froze toes and feet. Final(l)y came the dawn, of the worst nite I ever spent or want to spend. I put on dry socks which were wet in 5 minutes because of my boots. We ate a breakfast of frozen meat (Spam) biscuits, jam. And got out onto the road by 8am and away again. By now every step was misery. The previous day’s march and the cold, restless night, and
every muscle and joint ached. However, every body was in the same boat. We marched till noon and ate dinner in a fair sized town. In this town we bought a lot of bread off the Civvies, a lot of fellows bought sleighs. Shortly after we pulled out of this town it started to snow and blow and continued all afternoon. We marched a very long time with no rest and many of the boys were all in. It was hard enough to walk alone, much less pull a sleigh under the rate the Guards set up. Still the kilometers ticked by. At every little villiage a dozen or so dropped out and sat by the road as the procession of P.O.W.’s passed wearily by.
Finally we stopped to rest just opposite an army barrack. They were ok to us and gave us hot water and sold us bread. Our stay here was for too short and we hit the road again. As time went on more and more fell out and many who could not keep up walked slower. And I saw quite a few fellows who fainted and dropped by the side with a friend who stayed to help him. These ones were picked up by wagons much later on and many suffering bad frost bites. One of the boys in our party was ill and could not take his turn on the sleigh. It was now getting dark. And the prospects of spending this nite like the last one didn’t make the boys
any happier; The towns were full of refugees as well who had to have a place to sleep. All we longed for was warm, dry floor with lights. It was after dark when we pulled into the town of MUSKAU where we were to spend the night. We were near the end of the train, so it was some time before we got a place to stay, so we just hung around on the street in shade of building. Many of the fellows chatted with civilians and they seemed as fed up as we were. The Canadian G/C Wray, walked up and down assuring us that we had good quarters for the nite. About 9pm we pulled
up before a large building and about 300 of us got in it. It was just what we desired. It was a riding school, one large room well lit, heated and straw on the floor. It smelled strongly of manure but no one minded that. Our party got settled in a corner and we made our beds on the straw. My blankets were full of hay from the previous night but I cleaned them fairly well. It was sure good to get to bed and we all slept very soundly. Next day we real[l]y got organized (Tues. 30 Jan), we got hot water several times a day for brews. We also got about 2/3 of a red x parcel and a loaf of bread per person. We were in this town for 4 days, during which it got very
mild and all the snow went. The first day all the Americans left us for NURNBERG. and we said good bye to some fine friends. Then the rest of the north camp pulled out for SPREMBERG. About ½ of us stayed behind without transportation. We were very comfortable in the barn, We were on an estate owned by a GRAPH VON ARNHEIM supposed to be the third richest man in Germany. He was ok to us. There were some guards around who seemed as sick of the war as we were. We had a lot of liberty here, many of the boys wandering down town. We went down town with a guard to a shoe shop and got some apples, onions etc. the owner of the shop had a son who was a P.O.W. in the U.S.A. Then
one morning we got transportation and went over to Spremberg. The road was a solid mass of refugees and P.O.W.’s, most of the P.O.W.’s were Americans. There was no snow and all kit had to be carried, we pulled into a big military camp, got a meal and marched down to the train, loaded into box cars found we were going to Luckenwalde 30 km south of Berlin, traveled all that nite & next day and arrived at 1am. Next morning (Feb 5) marched up to the camp about 2 miles, had a search and sent to quarters, very poor ones at that; about 170 men to a room. Got to bed at 6am a very tired and unhappy crowd.
FEB 19, 1945. STALAG III A. LUKENWALDE. GERMANY. 30 miles South of BERLIN.
DAILY MENU. (NEVER VARIES)
1 CUP MINT TEA. NO SUGAR. OR MILD.
1 SLICE BLACK BREAD + MARGARINE
1 CUP OF PEA SOUP OR BARLEY.
1 SLICE BLACK BREAD + MARGARINE
3 BAKED POTATOES MIT SKINS.
EVENING SNACK 7PM
2 PIECES BREAD WITH ERSATZ CHEESE OR JAM.
I’M HAVING THIS SNACK WHEN I ARRIVE IN CANADA.
FRESH WHITE ROLLS. HOT.
1-LARGE MEDIUM STEAK.
WITH 3 FRIED EGGS ON TOP.
FRENCH FRIED POTATOES.
LARGE ICE CREAM. FRUIT.
SUNDAE.-WITH LOTS OF MARSHMALLO & NUTS
CHOCOLATE BISCUITS & MILK.
ROLL ON THE RUSSIANS AND HELP ME GET THIS FOOD.
SPECIALTIES, AT STALAG IIIA
FEB 10. A PICTURE SHOW. A SILENT GERMAN SHORT ON ANIMAL LIFE. A ‘SILENT ‘LAUREL + HARDY’ FILMED IN 1924. TOTAL 1 HR.
FEB 21 AS A GIFT FROM THE NORWEGIANS. WE GOT 1/5 OF A DANISH RED CROSS PARCEL PER MAN. VERY GOOD AND VERY LITTLE
FEB 23 BECAUSE OF SHORT BREAD ISSUE WE GOT AN EXTRA BOWL OF BARLEY AT 4P.M. VERY ENJOYABLE.
FEB 27 TODAY IS OUR DAY TO RUMMAGE IN THE GARBAGE. FOR POTATOES
CABBAGE, ETC. DISCARDED BY THE COOKHOUSE
MARCH 3 MAX SCHMELLING WAS IN THE CAMP FOR ABOUT AN HOUR TODAY. HE GAVE THE BOYS HIS PHOTO + AUTOGRAPH. SOME SENIOR OFFICERS WERE VERY ANNOYED.
MARCH 8 TODAY EVERYONE GOT AN AMERICAN RED X PARCEL AND PROSPECTS OF MORE ARE VERY GOOD. I’VE NEVER SEEN THE BOYS SO HAPPY. EVERY BODY IS EATING ALL HE WANTS WHETHER WISELY OR NOT AND SMOKING TOO. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OVER 6 WEEKS OUR STOMACHS ARE FULL AND IT SURE FEELS GOOD.
APRIL 1ST(EASTER SUNDAY) HAVE RECEIVED RED X PARCELS REGULAR AND THIS CAMP IS SURE A DIFFERENT PLACE. COMBINED WITH GOOD WEATHER AND NOW THE WEST FRONT IS MOVING THINGS ARE SURE A HELL OF A LOT BETTER..
APRIL 21. The Russians are very close. All the guards have disappeared, fences are being cut down and prisoners running all over and there’s great panic and excitement in the camp. Guns are booming on 3 sides of us. Some very close also I’ve been shot down a year today..
APRIL 22 6A.M. Awakened by cheering, went out side and saw a Russian armoured car with Russian officers in the camp, some Russian planes flying around too.
APRIL 23. my 21st Birthday, still a lot of fighting around here. A JU
A JU 88 fired into the camp last nite and scared everyone. Ate very well today Thanks to Russians.
April 26. Went to town today but too much fighting so came back. Eating very well. The Russians are sure pushing in the food. German troops are coming up to the camp to surrender to us rather than the Russians.
April 29. Went for a walk from the camp saw dead Russians and Germans, lots of abandoned equipment. A knocked out tank and 2 F.W. 90’s. Passed through several villiages. Life for civilians there was very poor.
May 1st Still a lot of fighting around here mostly at nite. The woods are full of Germans, half
starved who want to get to American lines to surrender. No definite news of going home yet. The boys are very fed up and many walking to our lines 25 miles away, despite the threat of court martial for leaving camp.
May 2. A big battle just out side the camp last nite, and a restless night inside the camp. This morning it was announced that the Germans in this area have capitulated. 120,000 were taken prisoner and 60,000 killed.
May 4 hundreds of fellows are taking off for our lines. In a few days there will be no one here. 4P.M. 4 of us were ready
to leave camp tomorrow morning but 2 jeeps and 2 armoured cars (American) just came in and we’re supposed to leave by truck tomorrow so I guess we’ll slay. (The cars were covered with prisoners who they met walking away and brought them back to camp).
May 6 Russians refuse to let Americans evacuate us, some trucks have gone back empty. Russians. have posted guards who have shot at some of the fellows.
May 7. I left camp today and caught an American truck which took me to American lines at MAGDEBURG. For the first time I real[l]y feel free.
MAY 8. Hitch hiked to an airfield south of Hannover; living with Americans and being treated like a king; flew in a DC.3 to Rheims.
MAY 10. got a Lancaster from Rheims to Tangmere (south England) landed 1.P.M. taken to Bournemouth.