The War Log of Bill Allen – part 12

3 weeks of hell…..

9th February 1945
“Little did I know what was before me when I last made an entry in this book, we have just experienced three weeks of hell. We left Bankau at 06.30 hours on Friday the 19th of January, it was snowing hard, and a high cold wind was blowing, we were told the temperature was 26° below zero, the roads were covered in ice and snow. Fifteen hundred of us set off to march to Sargan, north-west of Breslau, a large camp believed to contain 65,000 prisoners. The going was very hard, and after a few miles, we were all feeling pretty done up, the wind was the chief trouble and the ground being frozen, it was a terrible strain on our legs a we were floundering all over the place. Our route on that first day took us from Kretzburg on the Polish border, through Konstadt to a village called Wintersfeld, there we were herded like sheep into barns until we could neither sit or lay down. This was a terrible night, made worse by the fact that we were all very fatigued and badly needed a sleep, but it was impossible to obtain any. We had marched all through the day until dusk and had covered 24 kilometers (15 miles).

At a quarter past one, we were called out of the barns, fell in and told to march again as the Russians were coming up rapidly behind us, and we were less than a day ahead of them. The Germans marched us all through the night, and the next day. The latter half of the journey being through forests and up steep hills, so we were soon very exhausted, we were throwing away items of kit all the way along to lessen the load on our backs. In a very short time we had only the clothes that we stood in and our two blankets tied round our necks. One chap broke a leg in falling on the ice and was pulled along on a sledge by his crewmates. This was one of the longest march of the whole period. We stopped again in a deserted brick factory at a village by the name of Carlsrue. However, we were not to get much rest this time, as the German Officer in charge informed us that the Russians were coming up so fast they were almost upon us, and the German Artillery were taking over the brick yard as a defense zone. At eight o’clock we started again, to march all through the night, and to make it worse a terrible blizzard blew up again. That night was a nightmare, our object was to cross the River Oder before the morning as the Germans hoped to make a stand there. Men were dropping like flies and the M.O. and two Padres were working like niggers helping them along. We finally got across the river which is very wide at this point, at about eight o’clock in the morning. We were covered in snow and frost, and in a very pitiable condition. Here we were herded into a dirty old cowshed, stinking of dung and cattle, and had to lie on wet smelling straw. However, we were so fatigued that we were soon asleep. The total distance for the day and two nights of marching was 41 kilometers and 12 up to the brickyard, making a total in all of 53 kilometers.

We marched out again on the 21st of January to a place called Wanson, another 28 Kils. (17½ miles), here our food was exhausted and we were getting very hungry, we met Poles and Russians on the farms that we stopped at, and we were exchanging soap for potatoes. We met lots of people from German occupied countries, they were chiefly peasants working on the farms. I should have mentioned that all the farms are very large, and are state owned, the farmers live in a group of houses in the centre of the farming area, almost like a small town. There are great barns and cow sheds, and into these the Germans herded us after each days march. The Germans prevented us talking to the Poles and Russians as much as they could. Food from the 22nd January became so short, that we had to march only one day in two as the chaps were getting very weak and ill. Every place we stopped at we left a number of sick behind to be brought along on carts drawn by horses. By the way, due to the enormous shortage of fuel in Germany, the Germans used a tremendous amount of horse drawn transport, and what few trucks they used were only very essential military lorries; these burning charcoal and each towing as many as three smaller cars to save fuel. The roads from Poland were jammed with horses and carts packed with civilian refugees with their belongings. I imagine it was like France in 1940. We saw a number of Russians that had joined the German Army when the Germans were on top, and these refused to fight when the great Russian armies commenced their latest attack. The Germans put them under guard again and put them with us. One very outstanding feature of the march was the shops that were closed in each of the towns, through lack of provisions to sell, especially food shops, these appeared to have been shut for years. The food situation in Germany is very bad, I don’t know how the armies carry on with the poor rations that they receive, and the civilians are in a far worse state. The next few days of marching were very much the same, except that the food situation became more critical. We were cut down to 1/6 of a loaf of bread per day with half a cup of thin barley soup for which we had to queue for as long as two hours. The total mileage covered in the next few marching days was 62 ½ miles or 100 kilometers. The towns or villages that we stayed at were, Heidersdorf, Pfaffendorf, Standorf and Peterswitz. From the last place names, our food ran out completely and we went three days on four bread biscuits. The English Medical Officer told the German Commandant that we could not march any further without food, but it did not make any difference, we still had to march. The German Officer told us that we may go the rest of the journey by train from the next town, this cheered us a little but we were not very hopeful. The German promises were not to be relied upon as we had learned many times before.

About this time, at a large road junction, on one of the now famous auto-bahns, we met another great column of English prisoners from a camp called Lansdorf, those poor devils had been bombed by the Russians in mistake for German barracks. There were one hundred killed and six hundred wounded, the others were evacuated.

At Peterswdtz, we learned that the Russians had captured Breslau so we were not to go to Sargon after all as the camp there was also being evacuated. The next few days were spent just marching ahead of the advancing Russians with no fixed destination, the prospects for us were very bad as we were by this time in a very bad condition through lack of food, and tramping the roads and living in cowsheds like cattle for endless weeks was a grim existence. In some of the farms the fellows were groveling in cow and pig food for the tops of sugar beet and carrots that had lain under the snow for weeks and were rotten. Dysentery was rampant and the Medical Officer was having a terrible time…..”

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