The Long March

October 12, 2009

By January 1945, Russian forces were rapidly approaching from the East, as part of the allied liberation of Europe. As was common in many camps at the time, Stalagluft 3 was disbanded, and its occupants started on a “Long March” hundreds of miles westwards towards Spremberg partly to avoid the approaching Russian liberators, and partly as moveable hostages for the Germans. From January to April 1945, Alan and the inmates of Stalagluft 3 were marched westwards through Germany by their captors, in sub zero temperatures, with little food or supplies, and slept rough in deserted barns, and various buildings including a cinema. On Alan’s ex prisoner of war questionaire, he states that he was sent to Stalagluft Tamstadt between January and April 1945, herded into cattle trucks without windows, 70 to a truck, for a three day journey to Bremen, and then finally onto Marlag Milag Nord camp, Lubeck, near Westertimke, a camp for Merchant Seaman and Royal Navy personnel, that had already been condemned as unfit and unsanitary by the Red Cross.

Margaret remembers Alan telling her that he had foreseen this evacuation, and had stored up rations, for the journey, made a sledge from boards from bunk beds to carry his possessions on throught the snow, and had saved an old hessian sack, which he wore over the upper half of his body to protect his head and upper body during this long cold march.

Alan and the other inmates ended their Long March on Luneberg Heath, in Lower Saxony on the 4th May 1945 … co-incidentally place and date of the unconditional surrender by German Forces to the Allied forces under Field Marshal Montgomery, marking the end of World War Two in Europe. It is also where the body of Heinrich Himmler is buried in an unmarked grave, following his suicide.

I have the original telegram from Alan, to his parents which says “Landed Safely in England Home Friday Love Alan. VE day was the 8th May 1945, a Tuesday, and Alan was transferred to England via Dunsfold, onto a hospital for de-briefing, and then allowed home. Working on his telegram, therefore, we can assume that he eventually reached home on 11thMay 1945.

Margaret remembers Alan telling her that he and his colleagues had been told that there would be a tea laid on for the returning prisoners at Dunsfold, and that they were warned not to eat too much, as after many years on a frugal diet in POW camps, the POW’s would be unable to physically eat much, and they could make themselves ill. Alan took no notice, however, as faced with a plentiful supply of tasty food for the first time in 3 years, he couldn’t resist eating all he could!

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