Evacuation of Stalag Luft VII in Silesia - January 1945
Diary kept by an RAF POW

17.1.45 Orders received to evacuate the camp because of the Russian advance towards the West. Stood by all day with, kit packed.

All Red Cross parcels withdrawn from stores. Columns of retreating Germans pass the camp. Horse drawn wagons main form of transport. Bitterly cold - sub-zero temperatures. Russian P.O.W.'s are moved into our new compound. Small issue of cigarettes to each man.

18.1.45 Rations issued - 1/7th tin of meat, 2/3rd loaf of bread, 1/8 lb margarine. 1/4 lb honey, 2 cheeses. This to last two and a half days if we march - 4 days if transport is by train. All contents of food parcels shared amongst our combine of 18. My share - tin of cocoa, packet tea, tin sausages and some margarine.

Heavy air raid in vicinity of camp. Latest rumour - Germans leaving us here after all. Confusion in the minds of many. We may move this evening. Took to my bed at 22.00 hours.

19.1.45 03.30 hours ordered to parade at 05.00 hours. Bitterly cold - nothing but ice and snow. Moved off at 07.00 hours - some 1500 POWs, guards, guard dogs and 2 field kitchens.

Passed through Kreutzburg mid morning - unaware there were some three and a half thousand Red Cross parcels in the vicinity. Column moving very slowly - 5 minutes rest every 2 hours.

Arrived Kronstaat 12.30 hours. Items of kit left by the roadside at every stop., Mainly books, musical instruments and other bulky items. Some already finding this march difficult. Those in poor shape find a place in the sick wagon at the rear of the column.

16.00 hours - reached Winterfeld. Shelter found in barns and farm outbuildings. Spent night in hay loft. Main meal - bread and honey.

20.1.45 Expected to move at 08.00 hours but guards had us out by 04.00 hours. Moved off 06.30 hours. Bitterly cold - fingers and ears quickly numbed. 10.30 hours - arrived Karlsruhr. Refugees choking roads in all directions. Some guards disappear. Whole party accommodated in brickworks. Filthy dirty. Opportunity given to light fires and brew coffee and tea. Issue from field kitchens. Distance so far today - 12Km. At 21.30 we moved off again. Orders to cross the River Oder by 08.00 hours next day as the bridge was due to be blown. Temperature about freezing point.

21.1.45 Many observed suffering from hunger and fatigue. Reached Oder at 05.15 and crossed in single file. Rumours of rail transport soon. 07.00 hours reached Rosenfeld. No accommodation available - 7 Km. to proper barracks and then transport. 10.00 hours - Walchaven - almost exhausted. We had covered 41 Km. in some 24 hours. Shelter in Stables and cow sheds. Stench forgotten as we welcomed the warmth. Issued with 40 dog biscuits and cup of coffee (acorn). My feet are sore. 48 hours rest? Abandoned most of my kit including 1 of 2 blankets.

22.1.45 Rumour that the Russians have crossed the Oder and we must march 03.00 hours. Sick - about 40 - being left in hospital at Walchaven. Reluctant to move but a few warning shots fired around the stable area prompted a mass movement outside. Civilians in neighbourhood preparing to move as well. Women in tears. Passed through Schonfeld. Next shelter a barn at 11.00 hours. Cases of frostbite. Distance marched 21 km.

23.1.45 Food issue - half packet Knackercrot wafer, 1/8 lb margarine.
Marched from 08.45 to 11.30 hours. Germans prepared to exchange bread and cigarettes for our soup ration. Next stop Hansen (Barns) - half cup of soup. Distance today 19 km.

24.1.45 A complete day for rest. Rations - 1/7th loaf, 1/10 lb marge and 2 cups of soup.

25.1.45 Marched off 08.00 hours. 13.30 hours - Wintersdorf. Barnyard accommodation. Soup issue. Distance 21 Km.

26.1.45 Half cup of soup. More rumours of transport provision. Sick queue extremely long.

27.1.45 Ration - 2/5th loaf, 1/10 lb marge, Marched off at 11.00 hours. Still bitterly cold. Boots frozen solid. 17.00 hours Perfindorf. Distance 21 Km. Half cup of soup.

28.1.45 04.00 hours - prepare to move off by 05.30. Reached Standorf at 12.15 hours. Half cup soup and a couple of potatoes. Unbearably cold even in the loft, Germans say we stay for 2 or 3 days and then continue by train.

29.1.45 to 30.1.45 Food issue - 7 biscuits, 1/2 lb margarine 1/16th can meat, half cup soup. We match tonight as transport is waiting. On road at 18.30 hours. Temperature - freezing. Impossible to keep water in a bottle. 20.00 hours - issued 2 packets biscuits. Weather worsening. Marching in a blizzard. Men at breaking point. Fatal to drop out now and be left to die in this. Army vehicles snow bound. Forced to help move them. A dead German by the roadside. 05.15 we reached Javer. Still marching. 07.30 - Peterneiz. Guards in bad mood. Only barns in which to sleep. Distance during worst conditions so far - 25 Km. Change in diet - half cup porridge.

31.1.45 Ration issue - 1/5th loaf. 1 packet biscuits 1/10 lb margarine. Two and a half cups of soup, 2/3rd cup dry oats and 2 spoonsful of coffee grounds. Report to the M.0. Septic blister on foot. Moved into the barn used as a sick bay. All sick being moved next day. Polish people with whom we came in contact showed much compassion. 2 cups of porridge and onions - a real banquet!

1.2.45 Main column moved off at 08.00. Transport for the sick at 09.00 hours - 1 steam engine pulling 2 lorries and a trailer. So many aboard, it proved very uncomfortable. An added inconvenience - the Kommandant's dog. 14 Km. to Prossnitz where we arrived at 13.00 hours. Main group already there and usual number of small fires burning - a cheering sight. DEFINITELY NOT MOVING until transport is provided. Rations: 2/5th loaf bread, 1/7th lb margarine, half cup porridge and 2 raw potatoes.

2.2.45 Little improvement in condition of my foot - confined to makeshift bed. Weather improved considerably. A quick thaw - mud and slush replaces ice and snow. 2 issues of soup from field kitchen. Watches and rings bartered for bread, onions and potatoes.

3.2.45 No signs of moving. Small issue of bread and margarine also soup.

4.2.45 Information to the effect we move tomorrow as transport awaits us at Goldberg. Rations - 1/3 loaf, 1/6 lb marge, 1 spoonful sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup barley, 1/3 tin meat, 1/2 cup porridge oats. How long will this have to last?

5.2.45 06.45. Column marched off in a slight drizzle. My foot is better but marching is a strain. How different the countryside looks now the snow has gone. 8 Km to the station - arrived 10.00 hours. What a relief to see the TRAIN. No first class - just cattle trucks. 54 men in each truck so we were very restricted. Squat or stand - cramped in one position. Doors closed,and bolted. How many days of this hell? Train moved off at noon. passed through Liegnitz. Tempers frayed - dejected and miserable. Conditions in truck becomes unbearable as men urinate, vomit and excrete in odd corners. Feeding ourselves on raw oats, porridge and flour.
As night fell we were shunted into a siding at Sagan (Stalag Luft III). No movement for hours.

6.2.45 Moved from siding back to main line. Start, stop, start, stop. Carriage doors opened at intervals and we were allowed to stretch our legs. Buckets of water provided. Food and tempers getting short.

7.2.45 My last slice of bread has gone. Train never seems to travel for more than an hour before grinding to a halt. Half cup coffee per man. Protests about shortage of food to Germans, 30 trains ahead of us waiting to pass through a large town ahead. Many men being taken to hospital truck. Medical Officer and Staff unable to cope. Now eating flour and oats - a sickening concoction.

8.2.45 In a siding at Luckenwalde. The end of the line for us - confirmed by Camp Leader. A glorious morning - Spring is here. Rumours - 20,000 prisoners already in the camp. We are not expected. No food parcels. 11.30 Marched the 2 Km. to Stalag IIIA and searched as we passed through the gates. 400 of us to be housed in Barrack 9 North. No bunks - straw bales on the floor. Find a space and stake your claim. Food soon available - barley soup and potatoes and small ration of bread. All nationalities here in separate compounds. - Americans, Poles, French, Yugoslavs, Russians.

So begins life in my third camp but the end must be near.

Notes: marge=margarine: lb = pound weight = 454g