March to Freedom

March to Freedom



From Poland into Germany 1945


UPDATE - 21/11/2016

We've had contact from readers who suggested we re-title this transcript and as a result we've renamed it March to Freedom. 

We have also been asked about the reference to a woman cooking the food. As the POWs marched through villages and towns accommodation was sought and the guards expected the women to cook the rations (so they could eat too) - bearing in mind that few men would have been around at the time. Of the guards, Skeeter later said that they were quite old and likely to have served in WWI.

We value your input so if you have any comments please contact us or post your comments below. 

 

Introduction

This is a diary which Skeeter kept during a 921km march from the Stalag VIIIB POW camp in Poland through Czechoslovakia and into Germany during the final days of WWII in Europe, spanning 20 January to 16 May 1945. It is being published posthumously.

The diary itself is a Poznamkovy kalendar from 1943 which includes Feast days. It was probably given to him by a Pole whose name appears at the front of the diary (pictured). 

The names of towns in Poland and Czechoslovakia were written as German exonyms (different to local spelling) and a few towns no longer exist, at least one city has had a name change and others must have been so small they didn't make it onto a 1945 map - if anyone has any information please let us know. 

In the end there were only a few words we couldn't decipher; Skeet used a pencil and in some places his writing is very small and difficult to read. He must have picked up this diary some years later because he began to rewrite the entries from the beginning of the March, adding additional commentary. It is from this (later) diary that we start. 

Finally, Alice was his girlfriend in Australia. (After his death a very small pocket mirror was found with Alice's photo and initials inset on the back. He had kept this mirror with him throughout the War.) Gooza was his brother, also taken as a POW, but to another camp. 

Some key events have been added by the editors for context and are italicised. 

The Diary

January 1945
Red Army enters Warsaw on January 17 and the Germans start to retreat. On 19 January - from his bunker - Hitler orders that any further retreats by larger units must be approved by him

We were working in Dombrowa Coal Mine (near Krakow, Poland) up until about January 18th or 19th 1945. The Russians were getting very close – we could hear their artillery plainly and the German artillery in reply – in fact, we were sort of in between but a little to one side. Asked by the Jerries if we would prefer to march away or await the Russians we informed them that we would prefer to stay but the Jerries out ruled that idea and we began marching on January 20th. 

January 20 Saturday
Were told on the 19th to be ready to leave camp early on the 20th. Snow 8 inches to a foot in depth. Issued with 2 Red Cross parcels each to start with from the camp. The Jerries later confiscated 3 Polish lorries and horses plus the drivers to transport the Red Cross parcels we couldn't take. Of course this was for themselves and they lived like kings for the duration of the long hike on Eng. food. The day previous to leaving everybody got busy packing as much gear as he could conveniently carry, and early on the morn of departure. 

Amid much shouting and screaming from the Jerries (also revolver shots to try and frighten away the Poles who had gathered outside the camp to see us depart), we threw to the Poles our supplies, clothes, food and gear which we couldn’t take with us. Also the previous day some of the chaps got the brainwave that our gear could be more easily transported by sledges than by carrying on the back and many improvised sledges were made and were used for the first part of the journey, until the snow began to thaw when the sledges had to be discarded. On Jan 20th (Sat) after much screaming and counting of POWs and re-counting, we got away to an early start, some with their gear on sledges, others with haversacks on back. Now in the winter time in Europe, all the kids have small sledges, just like the Aussie kids have billy-carts and many of these were bought from the kids for an English chocolate or something from our Red Cross parcel and it wasn’t long before everyone had a sledge. 

Some of the chaps decided to go though and when the opportunity came, slipped up an alley way or into the door of a house and some were successful, while others not so lucky were spotted by the Huns, were brought back into the line, received a couple of kicks in the pants, and threatened with being shot if they attempt it again, continued on with the rest. 

We marched till after dark the first day and came to a POW camp where we quartered for the night. A few of us camped in a room full of carrots that night. Rather a lumpy sort of place to sleep after a fourteen mile hike. 

We were given a few rests en route and this camp was at a place called Beuthen. 

January 21 Sunday
On Jan 21st (Sun) we marched about 13 miles to Gleiwitz where Guards had difficulty in finding a place for us to sleep; but eventually our party were packed into a hall or theatre. It was very crowded as there were about three times as many parked in there than the hall would seat normally. Very little sleep that night. 

January 22 Monday
Marched about 8 miles to Buchenlust where we camped at a large farm and slept in a big barn with plenty of straw to keep us warm. The weather was bitterly cold. We arrived early at this place and had a wash and a shave, the first since leaving camp. But we were not destined to get much sleep that night as the Russians were not far away and looked like cutting us off – so the Jerries came in to rouse us out of bed at 12.30am that night as they must get us and themselves away from the dreaded Ruski. Of course, we didn’t want to leave our nice bed of straw at that unearthly hour and told the Huns that we wouldn’t budge till morning. But eventually, after much threatening and screaming, most of us were out ready to move at 3.00am. Some of the chaps dug themselves into the straw and were not spotted by the Huns, others made use of the dark night to make their escape from the march. 

January 23 Tuesday
Marched from 3.00am to 4.30pm and over 18 miles. Crossed the Oder River and camped in a barn at a small town called Oderbruck and saw some dead men on the side of the road as we passed along. Mostly they were German political prisoners dressed in the black and white prison garb and a few Russian POWs who probably had been marching along ahead of us and decided to have a run for it and were shot in their tracks. 

January 24 Wednesday
Marched about 13 miles and camped in a loft of a barn at Gnadenfeld. 

January 25 Thursday
Pass through the town of Leobshutz and camp at a village 3 miles away. The roads by this time are lined with German civilians mostly in light wagon buggies etc trying to put plenty of distance between themselves and the dreaded Ruski.

January 26 Friday
Travel 12 miles through heavy snow and camp in barns at Auschwitz (the famous Auschwitz concentration camp is situated near here).

January 27 Saturday
Liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops.

Marched about 4 miles and camp at Wehen where a lady cooks up a soup of spuds and dehydrated vegetables for us.

January 28 Sunday
By this time we have put considerable distance between us and Russians and have a free day and receive our first rations for the trip: some bread, margarine and sausage.

January 29 Monday
March 15 miles and pass through Troppar and camp in a barn at Zossen.

January 30 Tuesday
March through Bennet and camp in an unused factory at Freudenthal. Very crowded and conditions very unhygienic – shithouse full and blocked etc.

January 31 Wednesday
Red Army crosses Oder River into Germany, now less than 50 miles from Berlin.

Free day and food is scarce and the chaps are trading chocolate or cocoa for small quantities of bread etc with the Jerries and some youths in uniform which had been conscripted from Holland.

February 1 Thursday
Another free day. Rations up: 1 block soup powder to 3 men, 1 tin of meat to 9 men, bread and biscuits.

February 2 Friday
Leave Freudenthal and march 15 miles and camp at Andersdorf a short way from Romerstadt – good accommodation - electric light in barn.

February 3 Saturday
Travel through a valley and reach Deutch Lieban 24km away. Bread ration made an egg flip – wet straw.

February 4 Sunday
Travel about 20km to Mahr Schonberg.

February 5 Monday
Free day. Rations: 1 bread, meat, margarine.

February 6 Tuesday
Travel 20km through snow, sleet and rain uphill. Camp at Studinke (1000 feet above sea level) in small barn. People are Zecoslovakians. Good hand out.

February 7 Wednesday
Snow starts thawing and many sledges are abandoned. Travel 20km (uphill and heavy) to camp at Olbersdorf. Darkie Maher in charge of copper and boils the spuds...to find pot but managed to boil the water OK.

February 8 Thursday
Pass through Lansdon and travel 15km and camp at Dittelbach. We are given use of copper and cook spuds ... and boil water. The snow has ...

February 9 Friday
Free day. Liberal supply of spuds and milk from the kind lady.

February 10 Saturday
Free day. Lady supplies a noodle soup and we make another with the rations we get.

February 11 Sunday
Another soup from the lady, and extra thick with some more meat that we get.

February 12 Monday
Leave Dittlebach and after going a few kilometeres we have to dump our sledges because of the thaw. The snow is melting fast and... Travel 20km and camp at Chocni. The people make us soup or stew (more than we can eat).

February 13 Tuesday
Free day. The people bring us apples etc which is pooled. Rations up, bread and sausage for 3 days. Get a feed of soup. Done well.

February 14 Wednesday
Rained early but soon cleared up. March 13km to Unter Jellen. Get a soup and a copper of spuds.

February 15 Thursday
Light rain. Pass through Ostretern and (18km) and camp at Hoch Chivgna. Soup was supplied soon after arriving and coffee later. Hurled out of the rafters, trouble with the silly bloke. Later on get permission to use the loft.

February 16 Friday
FREE DAY. Have coffee at 9 o’clock and double soup at 12 o’clock, hot water at 1 o’clock. Issued with some dried vegetables and another soup is made. Later more coffee. Good people.

February 17 Saturday
Fine day. Passed through and crossed the Elbe where Napolean crossed once before. Travelled 18km and camp at Pohrebeca. Rations cheese and German tobacco, spuds, honey, margarine, a few fish from rations.

February 18 Sunday
Cold windy day. Pass outskirts of Koniggratz. Do 15km and 340 of us camp in a country barn and get a brew of tea after waiting in queue for 2 hours. Dismal outlook.

February 19 Monday
Free day. Nice and sunny. 2 Stews are made for our issue of dried vegetable and meat also coffee, 3 days ration of bread issued – 330 grams per day for 3 days.

February 20 Tuesday
Honey and margarine issued. March 12km and camp in barn at Baschwitz. Have a soup made from rations and some spuds from the farmer.

February 21 Wednesday
Very cold and frosty. Tramp 18km and 250 men are cramped into 1 barn. Hot water and soup from our rations of dried vegetables was cooked. Aul Ibitz is the village.

February 22 Thursday
FREE DAY. No rations.

February 23 Friday
March into the hills again and snow. Get a feed of bread and jam each at Ober Bausow. Travel 32km on bread ration, 2400 gr per man for 6 days, meat, sugar.

February 24 Saturday
Very cold and windy. Do 11km and camp at Repow in barns. Stew and coffee (rumour T at war). Wrote a card to Mum and Alice.

February 25 Sunday
Free day. Nice sunny day. Go out shifting coal. The civvies give us a good handout. Have a stew.

February 26 Monday
Wind and rain. March 29km and pass through Junbunzlpu camp in large storehouse at KropartiB Wrutitz.

February 27 Tuesday
Tramp 20km and camped at Tuhein. Have a soup cooked up.

February 28 Wednesday
FREE DAY. A soup is cooked and some stuff comes in from the civvies which is pooled. Rations: Bread 1 man – 1200 gr for 3 days, very little marg, cheese, sugar, sausage. Extra good day.

March 1 Thursday
About 15km today and we camp at Slosein. Have a stew and coffee and get some onions from the civvies. Cross the river in flood.

March 2 Friday
Bitterly cold and windy. See 200 or more American bombers fly over in groups of about 30 flying from the north. A lovely sight. Travel 21km to Weitsdorf and camp in a poverty stricken barn. ... River and see where the place was bombed.

March 3 Saturday
FREE DAY. Cold dismal day. Have a stew. Air raid but see few planes. Rations: bread 1200 gr to last 3 days, margarine, honey, sausage, sugar. Send a card to Mum. Lost my wristwatch.

March 4 Sunday
Cold but good while marching. Pass through Schlan, travel 13km and camp in a barn at Jedomilitz.

March 5 Monday
Pass through Rentch (hope growing and…) and Kurschawikz. Planes pass over and we hear bombing in distance and another at night. Snows heavily. Travel 27km and camp at Nesuchin.

March 6 Tuesday
FREE DAY. Rations up today. Same as before.

March 7 Wednesday
Passed through the Zecho-Sudeten border then through Horenfeld Willenz and camp at Petersberg (18km).

March 8 Thursday
Travelled uphill 20km and camped at Krippen.

March 9 Friday
Free day. Have a potato soup. Rations no bread but 1 kilo per man for 2 days 5 gr per man margarine and a bit of meat. Terrible.

March 10 Saturday
FREE DAY. Have a watery soup. Cold, windy and real bad day.

March 11 Sunday
LUCK. Red Cross parcels. From Int Red Cross, some English, American and Canadian issue. 2 pkts for 3 men. We get Canadian and French. Travel 22km over hilly snowbound country. Camp in a pottery factory at Taschitz. Get 1st news of our troops crossing the Rhine.

March 12 Monday
FREE DAY. Have a soup supplied from our rations and make a ... feed out of spuds (which we carried) and a helping of French meat. Rations bread 100 gr per man to last 2 days, a few pounds of turnips for 280 men.

March 13 Tuesday
Travel through mountains and valleys through Petschan and camp at Neusdorf. 26km. Rations bread 1 man 150 gr for 2 days, 1 man quarter turnip.

March 14 Wednesday
Country is less hilly today. Travel 18km and camp in the loft of warm barn at Hohensdorf. Spuds are served up. Small fires allowed. Air raids.

March 15 Thursday
Free day. Air raids. We changed our cooks yesterday and we get a good thick soup today. Rations 3 days 1 man 600 gr bread, get a Red Cross parcel between 3 men. Nice sunny day.

March 16 Friday
(Lovely sunny day). Travel 15km and camp in barns at Plan. Air raids.

March 17 Saturday
Drizzling rain. Travel 20km camp at Haid. No open fires allowed, also no lights allowed in barns. A good soup is cooked from our rations. Air raids.

March 18 Sunday
FREE DAY. Cold and raining. Have another good soup. Rations for 3 days 1 man – 750 gr bread.

March 19 Monday
March 17km and camp at Katharina Hauseln. A few fires allowed.

March 20 Tuesday
March over hilly pine forest country and cross into Bavaria. Do 22km and camp at Bergstreurtz.

March 21 Wednesday
Free day. Have shave and bath. Three 2 kilo loaves and some spuds are procured (lucky). Rations for 2 days bread 400 gr per man.

March 22 Thursday
Passed through and camped at Tetzen (22km). Rations for 2 days (to last until 25th) bread 400 gr per man.

March 23 Friday
March 10km and camp at Edelsdorf. Parcels up 1 Canadian and 1 American for 4 men. Spuds are cooked.

March 24 Saturday
FREE DAY. Nice Spring day. The cooks provide a good thick soup. Wash towel and 2 singlets in small creek. Rations for 3 days breat 10 gr per man, 500 gr sausage.

March 25 Sunday
Wake at 3.15am. Start marching at 4.30am do 6km and in barn at Weiden 7am. Start 10am go 40km and pull in, air raid alarm. Go on another line and travel during to the night and reach Nurnberg where we remain for hours (air alarms).

March 26 Monday
Pass through Newmarkt & Regensberg ... shambles. Get out at 10.15pm at Obers Traubling and camp in a large barn.

March 27 Tuesday
Fix up the barn (beds, paths etc are made and shelves). Get boilers for a cookhouse.

March 28 Wednesday
Go into Regensberg for rations. See damage caused by bombing. Got some bread.

March 29 Thursday
Red Army enters Austria, other Allies take Frankfurt. Germans are in retreat.

Rations for 4 days 100 gr bread per man, sugar, peas, spuds, meat to last till Sunday 1st.

March 30 Friday
The bloke next door reports 1 ½ tons of spuds missing. Police finds 3 loose boards in picket fence. Footprints to and from spud patch to barrack fence. Threatened will search so a lot of them are returned and the matter dropped – until 8.45pm when we are forced to stand on parade ankle deep in mud until 6am.

March 31 Saturday
Go to bed at 6.10am. Barney cooks a slice of toast for tea … Air raid and one of our planes strafes the vicinity.

April 1 Sunday
US start Battle of Okinawa in Japan.

Easter Sunday. Air raid and one plane flies low and does some strafing.

April 2 Monday
Soviets surround Vienna. German armies are surrounded in the Ruhr region.

Clocks are put on one hour. Our guards have changed places with Auschwitz guards. Rations up. Bread 400 gr for 2 days per man, spoonful sugar, peas, meat.

April 3 Tuesday
Cold windy day. Some rations came up but no bread. The Japanese delegation (10 carloads) were seen travelling south.

April 4 Wednesday
Dismal day. Bread came along. 1 day’s ration 225gr. Saw Red Cross trucks go by. Air raids. (Parcels up).

April 5 Thursday
ARBEIT. Get up at 5am and leave for station at 6, wait about with frozen feet until 7.40, start work at 9am. Shifting sleepers and rails etc. Air alarm and we go into air raid shelters for 2 hours. Got home at 5pm (nothing to eat since 5am).

April 6 Friday
Allies launch major offence in northern Italy.

Rainy day. Work cleaning up debris. J Gilmore brings home bag of spuds and I get some carrots. ½ parcel per man. Rations bread 226gr margarine, sugar.

April 7 Saturday
A South African was killed at work today by a fall in a wrecked building. Walked home from work. Rations bread and some cheese.

April 8 Sunday
Nice sunny day. A good soup and good Red Cross tucker makes a very enjoyable day. NO WORK. Make shelves etc 

April 9 Monday
Work again today. Air alarm and we spend 1 3/4 hours in the shelters. Bring home word etc. Rations bread 225gr per man, red beat. Later several hundred of our planes fly over.

April 10 Tuesday
Line up for work but there is an air alarm and we return to lager. Red Cross parcels up and we have a good tuck in. Rations bread 225gr, a bit of cheese and margarine. Wrote a card to mum and Alice.

April 11 Wednesday
Go to work and we spend 3 hours in the shelter. Planes bomb Regensberg and Aerodrome here. Walk home.

April 12 Thursday
FD Roosevelt, re-elected for the 4th time on January 20, dies. Vice-President Truman sworn in as President.

No work for me today. Air raid.

April 13 Friday
Go to work. Bad day ... German guards & civvies. Parcel issue 1 between 4 men.

April 14 Saturday
Bombers strafe very close to our quarters today and the boys haven't forgotten how to disappear. Rations bread, milk margarine.

April 15 Sunday
More strafing by bombers of the railway yards about 100 yards away. Had a bath in the yard. Wild bull charges into the yard and causes some excitement.

April 16 Monday
Our bombers come over and bomb targets nearby and the railway and targets at Regensberg about 200 planes. The workers get home about 5.30.

April 17 Tuesday
Several parties of POWs pass through and report many casualties and some dead as a result of yesterday's bombing.

April 18 Wednesday
Red Cross parcels come in and we are issued with one per man. A Yank shot down a couple of days ago came here to be patched up.

April 19 Thursday
Detailed for work today but after marching into Regensberg toward the place almost deserted so return home. We get permission to paint BRITISH POW on the roof of our camp. A lot of our NCOs pass through.

April 20 Friday
A lot of bombers bomb East Regensberg and two planes are shot down. One pilot makes a gallant effort to right his plane which explodes in mid air. 5 men come down in parachutes. A lot of our boys were working in the station and some were killed or wounded.

April 21 Saturday
More bombing and strafing. See a big Yankee flying fortress shot down. 2 men made escape and one lands about 50 yards away. No bread today.

April 22 Sunday
Go to work filling in crater at the station which is in a terrible condition. Air raid alarm goes and everyone disappears into the open which is also riddled with holes.

April 23 Monday
No work today. Pack up and move at 7 o’clock. Travel all night and pull into a farm at 6am. Very tired and footsore. Got a parcel and a 3/5 before leaving (32km).

April 24 Tuesday
Start marching again at 8.30 and finish at 4.30. Some stages we marched 2 hours without a spell. Men falling out sick and exhausted. My feet give me trouble but I manage to stagger in. Pass through Ergoldsbach and camp in a large barn. Done about 30km.

April 25 Wednesday
Himmler makes secret surrender offer to the Allies.

Anzac Day. Nice sunny day and we have a free day from marching. Bread ration to 4 days is issued. Our planes are about all day and artillery guns can be heard.

April 26 Thursday
Butter ration issued. Lovely day. Cully buys a pig and the cooks kill and dress it.

April 27 Friday
Pork is given out also bread. Shift into the cellar and make a table.

April 28 Saturday
Hitler hears of Himmler’s betrayel and orders Himmler shot.

We are all sick owing to the pork. Hear news of a revolution in Munich. Move to another barn about 2km away. Artillery duels in distance.

April 29 Sunday
The artillery fire and M.G. gets closer. The Yanks issues orders to put up the white flags or he’ll blow the place up which is done in a hurry. Much transport passes during the night.

April 30 Monday 
Adolf Hitler commits suicide by gunshot. His wife, Eva Braun, commits suicide by taking a cyanide pill.

Jerry retreats. The Yanks advance and we find ourselves free once more to walk into the village and knock over a couple of chooks. Some of the boys go through and see Jerry troops brought in.

May 1 Tuesday
Goebbels and wife suicide after killing their children. Australian troops land in Borneo.

A lot more of the boys go through. Barney brings home a deer.

May 2 Wednesday
Battle of Berlin ends.

Jack and Ab go to Landshut to get a bus but fail. Then Barney and I make an attempt and get on to a good bus but can’t get it going. Get a bread ration. More chaps go through.

May 3 Thursday
Pack up and make toward Landshut. It rains and we pull into a shed and collect 2 fowls, 1 pair of new shoes and few extras. Pull into small village Erodloing 5km from Landshut and camp in barn (8 men). Yankee planes pull in and take Yankee and British POWs off. Bring back blankets etc from aeroplane.

May 4 Friday
The woman cooks cakes for us. Get a parcel issued after attaching ourselves to Capt Seaford, 1st Company. Go into Landshut and get about 100lb flour. Have a look at which was once Landshut railway station and yards (just a shambles).

May 5 Saturday
Get another round of Red Cross stuff. War finishes at 7pm. Go into Landshut and come back with flour, sugar, salt and biscuits from the chocolate factory. The woman cooks us some cakes.

May 6 Sunday
Get a bike from the pile taken from the civilians by asking the MP for one. He said - Help yourself. Go out into the country and buy 26 eggs.

May 7 Monday
German surrender.

Over 80 planes come and leave for England with ex POW. We invite 4 officers (3 kiwis and 1 Jock) to stay with us.

May 8 Tuesday
Victory in Europe ‘VE Day’ marks the end of WW2 in Europe.

The officers leave some shirts, singlets etc and take our names and addresses for cabling home. Get another ½ parcel and get disinfected and air plane ticket. 200 planes take our pow. 2 Jerry planes land and give up.

May 9 Wednesday
Go out and get 3 doz eggs.

May 10 Thursday
Proceed to aerodrome and get a parcel per men but not enough planes arrive so we return to our billet.

May 11 Friday
Go to the airfield early. Get on plane and leave at 10.45 in American transport planes. Land at Rhiems and get on truck and travel 20 miles to Eng. airport. Get on Lancaster bombers and head in South England. I have feed. Taken to Eastbourne and billets and issues.

May 12 Saturday
Get another issue of Red Cross stuff.

May 13 Sunday

May 14 Monday

May 15 Tuesday
Go into town and have a booz up and take a sheila home.

May 16 Wednesday
Meet Gooza. Went to a dance at the Winter Gardens. Receive a wire from home.