From: alan.skeoch@rogers.com” <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Date: Monday, December 30, 2019 at 10:16 PM
To: Marjorie Skeoch <marjorieskeoch@gmail.com>, “alan.skeoch@rogers.com” <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>


alan skeoch
DEC 30. 2019


So here  we are Victor.  May  I speak to you Victor even though you have died longlong ago.

I wish, Victor, that I had transcribed your edited diary back in the 1980’s when you were alive and full of
piss and vinegar.  You trusted me and believed I was a much bigger fish in the ocean life than I 
actually was in those days.   My first  priority was  my students.  I know that sounds cruel, Victor, but
it was a truth.  Each day I tried  to inject young  minds  with an ability to be introspective.  To see
themselves as  threads  in the garment of life.  That task was never easy.  Preparing lessons  sounds
like such a dull thing to do.  Boring some might say.  I laboured to avoid the tedium of repetition and
sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed Victor.  Your story, however, was always on my mind
as  Gordon  Lightfoot said in one his wonderful songs.  And  when I told your story to a class they were
always riveted…always able to put themselves  in the lonely plexiglass bubble of HX 313 as it hurtled
its to earth.  I regret that your constant sexual  adventures were never shared.  That would have got
me into trouble for sure.  Some people might consider those sexual adventures exploitive.  i.e. treating
women as only sexual objects.  I know that was  not the case with you Victor. You loved them all.

Now we have reached the final section of your story.  I would  like to pick it up at the point your
damaged body hit the ground near your target of Bourg Leopold, Belgium.  You have written some
notes for me to put the story together but those notes are not nearly as rich  as  your diary notations.
So forgive me.  I am going to try and put my feet in your shoes.  To start me off I have to take
another look at you…maybe two looks.  First, the Amused  grin of you Victor when you took me
up in that decrepit Cessna 170 over the Californian village of Lake Elsinore in 1984.  And  second
the real devilish  smile on your face the year you joined the RCAF at 22 years of  age.  

Victor, it seems to me that you knew that being tail gunner was going to be a life altering experience,
You joined he RCAF as a baby faced kid in the early years of World  War Two.   By 1945 you had grown
up and  were aware of your days living on this earth were limited.  Yet you survived.  And  for the r best
of your life you would live and  relive those Bomber Command war years

So let’s pick up the story again on that tragic night of May 27, 1943 when  the Blonde Bomber, HX 313
was on fire and plummeting to earth afire and  carrying a full bomb load.

Victor you were the only living person still on board.  Your good friend  Hank Freeman was  present
but dead.  Killed by bullets that punctured the belly of HX 313 and just stopped short of Victor’s rear   

      gunner bubble.



“Our bomber did not explode.  There were  fires in from front to rear.  The inside  of much  of the plane was cherry red.
My first thoughts were: ‘You have been waiting for this and now  it has finally happened.’ I called on the Intercom
but received  no answer, only static.  HX 313, however, was still flying in a straight line.”

“I pulled off my flying helmet, opened my turret doors, reached for my parachute and snapped it to my chest. I stayed in my
position because  I saw  no parachute go by the tail.   Then,  a few seconds later, I saw  one.  It was open and  on its side
parallel to the ground  just missing the  port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go.  I swung my turrets 90 degrees in the
fuselage and tried to go  out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind.  I tried twice to no avail.   By this time the ground
was appearing quite close.  I could tell from  the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too much 
time and  by then it would be too late anyway.  So I sat there waiting for my end.  The aircraft then went into a  flat spin.
My turret twisted  free and I was flung out by the brute force.  My leg, however, was stuck momentarily under my leg guard.
I could feel my knee pull right out of its socket.   Then my leg came free.  I was falling flat on my back.  I looked on my
chest for my parachute  and it was not there.  The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and was
 nowhere feet from my face and above.  Pulled on the
harness  and brought the parachute down close enough so I could  grab  the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap.  A pain
knifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and  pulled thereby  relieving the pain.  A few
seconds later I saw  the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though  I was an arrow.  I hit the ground hard  and collapsed
with my parachute falling on top of me.  I am  sure the chute had  opened  at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had been
at 11,900when we were first hit by the flak and  then shot up  by the JU 88.”

“I managed to get onto my feet but I could not feel  anything  from the waist down…felt like metal bands were clamped around
my ankles and knees.   I was standing balanced as though on stilts.  Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraft
in its death sieve.  I Dropped flat to the ground.  It is amazing how close you think you are to the ground, as  if you are being
pulled down tight, pressed into the grass.  This aircraft hit a few fields away and  exploded.”

“All of this happened at approximately 2 a.m. on the 28th of May, 1944.  After the explosion I found I couldn’t walk but moved with
a painful shuffle.  I moved away from the area slowly.   At wire fences I would put my body through and  then with my hands pull my legs  through.
I moved along in this manner until the dawn started to glow.  Then I made my way  into the centre  of a wheat field where  I  lay down
and fell into a deep  sleep. I awoke at noon hour with the sun shining down at me.   I made my way out of the field and crawled  under
a tree.  I took off my electric suit and found I  had suffered some  spinal chord damage and had torn open my left leg and buttocks.
The  leg was swollen twice its normal  size and black  and blue.  I also had torn muscles and  ligaments.  I crawled  to  a farm house
where the farmer  was kind but reluctant  to hide  me.   He gave  me water and milk to drink.  We were advised in England never
to impose upon these people.   I they showed willingness, fine.   If not, leave.  If we were caught with them they would suffer


“My legs were starting to stiffen up and  the pain was increasing.  I made  my way to another field where I lay down and rolled and rolled
in agony.   I was this way well into the afternoon.   Finally I felt that I must get  some assistance.  On my knees I made my way  
back to the  farm house and indicated I  would like police assistance.  While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsve
me an injection of some sort but it had no effect.  I gave the farm woman all of my escape  money and shortly two Luftwaffe
NCO’s came  in an automobile.  I was placed in the  back seat with one  NCO and because I  could not bend my  legs I had
to lay across his body.”

“I was driven to our target the previous night.  There was one room left standing where I was deposited on a  bed.   Despite all
of the  killing we had done I was not mistreated.  I was given a bowl of greasy stew which i could not down.  Later, I was visited
by a German medical officer   All he did was rant and rave  at me in German.   Although I Felt he was going to strike me, he did not.
Three days later I was taken outside and placed in the back of a truck with four caskets.  A German NCO pointed to one and
said “Komerad  Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin.  I gave a negative response.  He then pointed  to the casket on my right
and said “Kamerad Wakely”.  This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely.  Again I gave a negative response .  I was not questioned about the 
third caskrt. This one must have been George. The fourth  was empty as I had moved it with my foot.  At that  time I did not know George
was dead.   It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war  was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had  been
killed.  This left me stunned as  Hank (George)  and I were real close friends.”

       What happened to Hank Freeman?   “So Hank could  have been the first one out as Bill seems to remember someone going out ahead of him.  Bill may be  correct

      but I don’t think so.  I had  no  trouble hearing the clatter of bullets coming through from below and stopping just short of my position.  I think Hanks was hanging
      there. Dead.  Remember the comment that the crew passed by the upper turret and  saw feet hanging down and my smelling burnt flesh when I  was  put in
      the German truck  with the coffins  later.  But I could be  wrong.  If Hank bailed out he would  have been the first out followed by Bill, Muir, Wilf, Bob, Eric, Ken and
      finally myself.  Personally I think he  was killed  by the tremendous burst of bullets crashing through HX  313 from front to back in those few seconds.  Hank
      wasn’t the type to  bail out first.   He  would  have waited to be  sure.   I only tried to bale out after I saw a chute  go by horizontally which  was  Ken.  I was
      sure I would  go  down with HX 313…certain death.  Then fate took hold, the bubble shifted and I  fell out just in time.”

Note:  Victor  Poppa’s account closed the file on the  last flight of HX 313.   He was the last person to get out of the aircraft.  All had
been able to get out one way or  another, except for George Freeman.  Two who got out were killed when they  hit the ground.
The rest survived. George was  likely killed  when  the JU 88 strafed the plane.  One of the crew remembers George’s legs hanging down
as he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch.   The nagging thought that George remained  alive worried Victor because
gunners were often trapped in their  turrets like  Victor had been.  HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station.   Eric  Mallett
and Ken  Sweatman were escorted  past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde  Bomber.  They could not stop to look
closely for their  escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric as 
quickly as possible.   Victor Poppa, George Elliott and Morris Muir became POW’s.


Stalag Luft 7 was a World War II Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp located in Bankau, SilesiaGermany (now BąkówOpole VoivodeshipPoland.

Note: OnMay 19,1984, almost 200 Canadian veterans and their wives celebrated the 50 year anniversary of 424 Squadron…the Tiger Squadron…the ‘City of Hamilton  Squadron.

Among those present were Victor Poppa and his wife Louise.  In the special Memorial  book, Victor provided  an overview of his  life as  a POW in Stalag Lutt VII.

Victor Poppa: ” After hospitalization and interrogation i Iwas sent to Stalag Luft VII at Bankau which is ten miles from the  Polish border in a straight line between Breslau and Krakau. 
At first we were given one Red Cross parcel a week plus one meal a day.  The tins  in the Red  Cross parcels were punctured to keep us from hoarding the food  for escape use.
By September 1944 the parcels only came once every two weeks and  on Christmas  day, December 25  1944, we received our last Red Cross parcel. In the new year the weather
became colder.  Since our food had been  reduced we felt the cold more. ” 

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/02/Red_Cross_Parcel.jpg/500px-Red_Cross_Parcel.jpg 2x” data-file-width=”2848″ data-file-height=”2136″>

Note:  Other surviving POW’s described Stalag Luft VII as terrible…especially for the Russians in adjoining POW camp who were systematically starved to death.  One Canadian POW
said  they sometimes  tried to throw potato peels over the barbed wire to the Russians who  fought to get whatever they could.  Russian corpses  often had flesh wounds related to
cannibalism.  Efforts to help the Russians was nearly impossible.  No point, explained  one guard, just a waste of food  for the Russians  would soon  be dead.
Note: Victor Poppa’s description is short.  Conversations with Victor were much  more detailed but I have no detailed written account except from memory.  Victor did describe the
horrors faced by the Russians.   He also described  a Russian women’s POW camp which was  also grim.  Grim?  Wrong word.  Horrible is better.
In 1941 Hitler gave the infamous Commisar Order that permitted the wholesale murder of  Russian  POW’s and civilians.   He justified it by saying that Stalin would  do
the same to German POW’s.  The estimated numbers  of deaths by starvation or execution is mind boggling.

(“It is estimated that at least 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody, out of 5.7 million. This figure represents a total of 57% of all Soviet POWs and may be contrasted with 8,300 out of 231,000 British and U.S. prisoners, or 3.6%. About 5% of the Soviet prisoners who died were Jews.[5] The most deaths took place between June 1941 and January 1942, when the Germans killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs primarily through deliberate starvation,[6] exposure, and summary execution. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called ‘volunteers’ (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht, 500,000 had fled or were liberated, the remaining 3.3 million had perished as POWs.”)

An improvised camp for Soviet Prisoners of war.  Thousands.  Many would starve  to death.  Allied prisonerss
like Victor Poppa were treated  better and many  survived.  


“Because of the Russians advance we were ordered to march  west and  after 15days marching, with very little for, we reached  Cloberg on February 5th, 1945. We were put
into boxcars and  transformed  to Luft 3A which is about 4 miles from Potsdam.  Our rations  were cut again and we were getting concerned about our health as we  were
weaker and noticeably thinner.One morning when we awoke to the sound of gunfire in the distance there were suddenly no guards in the camp.   About noon the Russians
appeared.  We were told they had hooked  up with the Americans about 50 miles to the south of us. Carl Seeley and I decided to cut out on our own.”

Note:   See two diary descriptions of the Long March as post scripts.  Why was it necessary to march POW’s deep into the collapsing circle of German territory?
Prisoners had  negotiating value I  suppose.  One source reported that Adolph Hitler ordered  all POW’s to be shot in the event of a German surrender.  This never
happened.  The collapse of German forces  was fast and it is  doubtful that such a wide scale massacre would have happened.

“On the second day out we hooked up with nine French girls.  We did the food scrounging for all of us while the girls did the cooking.  After 14 days we reachedTorgow and the
Americans.  They agreed to pass us on to the Canadians but could  do nothing for the French girls as they were civilians.  That night we had a farewell party and after exchanging addresses we 
boarded  a  C47 for Brussels..  The next day we were flown to England and boarded  a train for Bournemouth and eventually repatriated home to Canada.  Out of our  crew of eight, five of us
managed to come home.”

“I found my map used by Seeley, myself and the French girls to reach the American sector.  Dated  Aril 10, 1945.  We walked from LUckenwalde POW camp to Juterborg, then south to 
Herzberg then SW to Torgau where the Russian and American forces met.  I am not sure how long it took…between 9 and 14days.”

Note:  This short account was written in 1984.  Too bad it is so short.  I remember Victor telling me his adventures when he and Seeley walked through the ruins of Germany
to the American lines.   At one point while scrounging for food they entered a  farmer’s house and  faced a German  officer in a bedroom.   The officer was scared as was Victor.
Nothing happened even though the German  had a Luger beneath the covers.  Victor backed out of the room.   Seeley and Poppa acted  as  protectors of the nine girls on their
14 day escape.  He told  me that chaos was too soft a  word  for the condition of Germany in those immediate post war weeks. I remember asking  Victor is they  hid at night.  Usually
in empty barns or houses he answered.  

“What did  you do in daylight?  Lots of  people with guns…Russians, Germans.”
“That was a  problem.  At first we ducked into ditches or bushes but that was risky.  Nervous trigger fingers all around.  So we decided it was best to stay exposed on the roads.  We became
part of the stream of people moving who knows where.  Actually having the nine French girls was protection for Seeley and  me.”

Note:  Other stories by liberated POW’s abound.  In the daytime they wandered through German towns taking whatever was portable.  One POW even broke into a paymaster’s office and
found  piles of various wartime currencies.  “I took some…wish I had  taken more for the money turned out to be cashable.”  Another group broke into a wine storage building filled with
fine wines from France.  One of the POW’s took a case of champagne back  to the POW camp for a  party.  Next day he thought he should get more but by then the building had
been set ablaze. “Burned to the ground.”  Most POW’s felt safer in the prison camp rather than in German towns and cities at night.  So they raided in daylight and returned to camp
at night.   Another Canadian ex  POW carefully snipped out a huge portrait of Hitler as  a  souvenir.  “Too big for the C47…you cannot take it aboard.”  What most POW’s wanted to
find  were German Lugers as there were heaps  of recently cast off German uniforms here and  there as Germans attempted to suddenly become civilians.  “I kicked one pile of German
uniforms and  a Luger slid out from the pile.  Before I could reach down, other hands  grabbed it.”   Symbols  of the Third Reich were gathered not just by POW’s but by Allied soldiers and
officers as well.  They appear now and then in auctions.  Harry T—. a good friend of mine had  a  nice oil painting hanging in his Mississauga  home that he cut from a German  frame and 
rolled up as ‘the spoils of war’.  Another friend inherited  from his paratrooper father a  whole basket full of badges including an Iron Cross along with a large Nazi flag.  “What am I  going
to do with this?”, he wondered.  

Note:   What happened to the guards?  Seems that some of them ditched their uniforms and mixed in with the refugee streams on the roads.  One group of guards had a novel reaction to
the situation.  They threw their weapons over the barbed wire fence and became prisoners of the POW’s and were photographed as such.  I  do not know if that was much  protection
against the arrival of Russian troops so  suspect those guards  were in an American sector.  Dead and near dead Russian POW’s must have enraged Russian forces.
A  long time ago, back in 1961, I read ‘Documents of the Expulsion’ which detailed  the fate of tens of  thousands  of Germans attempting to escape Russian occupation
of Poland and the Baltic States.  There is no horror that I have read since to match what happened to many of these people.  German  POW’s  captured by the Russians were shipped
by the trainload to Siberian  prisons  where many died.  Eventually, years  later, some were able to trickle back to Germany.  Some may have been Victor Poppa’s  prison guards.

 When Victor Poppa reached the American sector he was housed
briefly on a recently liberated  German  air base.  “One day a German Messerschmitt  flew in escorted by American fighter planes.  It landed and a German officer surrendered having escaped 
the eastern sector.  His girlfriend was  with him in the plane.” Both were taken away.  “I do  not know what happened to the Messerschmitt.   But I do remember looking at a  great number of aircraft on the base.
Most of them no longer airworthy.”  Did Victor Poppa bring any trophies home?  I don’t know, but he sure brought back lots of memories.  I bet he wanted that Messerscmidt for he had a deep
fascination with aircraft.  I can imagine Victor suggesting….  “I guess it would be out of the question for me to fly that Messerscmitt back  to England.  That would save
a seat in the C47 for someone else?”  (never uttered but true to Victor’s nature.)


Those  of  you who  have read Parts  1, 2, and 3 of the Victor Poppa story must feel as I did that
a very human, very graphic, very exciting window  had been opened.   Perhaps the best way
to close that window is to let Victor do the closing.  Below is the last letter Victor Poppa sent
to me on Dec.  7, 1988.  

                                                                                      Victor Poppa
                                                                                     33535 Valencia St. R1
                                                                                    Lake Elsinore
                                                                                    California,  92330

Dear Alan, Marjorie, Kevin and  Andrew,

I was  just reviewing your letter of April 8, 1988 which seems a  very long  time ago. I regret not
answering sooner.   Thanks for your book ‘Focus on Society’ which I have read and  enjoyed.
I have a collectors’ item for you…a 12 ounce can of Budweiser Beer with no pull tab for easy
opening, the can must have slipped through inspection.  As you know I quit drinking alcohol
years ago which  must surprise anyone reading my diary of those war years.

I have not been feeling all that well this year with has hampered my letter writing. Presently
I am getting pain up my left leg from ankle to hip.  It pulsates in an arthritic way….very painful.
Louise  is  having her share of trouble as well.  To add to it she  fell off our airplane’s horizontal stabilizer
as I was trying as I was trying to get the main wheels out of  some soft earth.  I pushed down 
on the tail to get the nose wheel up and induced Louise to sit on the stabilizer. This kept
the nose wheel up.  Louise’s weight was a modest advantage.  However when Louise  changed
position the tail unit shot up and Louise fell off.  She fell about 4.5 feet landing on her left foot then
banged the back  of her head.   Louise was  groaning and crying that she was  about to die.  A
bone was broken in her foot so  Louise is now sporting a cast from toe to just below the knee.
She will be limping around the house for six more weeks.

Then a  few weeks  ago when I was  on a nocturnal visit to the refrigerator I tripped  and cracked
a rib when I hit the table top with my side.  A few weeks  earlier I tripped over the dog on a 
similar trip to the refrigerator.  That time I cracked my right knee cap I think.  There was a
loud  ‘crack’ indicating something broke.   It doesn’t hurt though.

We had  Thelma Sweatman  here for two weeks in early February.   I gave her the picture of
HX 33.  She was  happy to get it.  Thelma  asked me to send you a card from Ken’s funeral.  
He died on August 30, my birthday.  Ken has  let me with the fondest memories.  He was a
wonderful  person…cool in combat…good and  sincere…never changing.  Always a  good friend.
The world  has lost a fine person.

Alan, I should  have put in more detail describing some of  our missions in my diary.  I suppose
I can add comments now.

Have a very Merry Christmas and  a  Happy New  year.

Love from  us

Victor and  Louise Poppa

Note: I suppose This  must seem to be a strange letter .  Accidents, ailments…normal give and take
of daily life including Victor’s  ‘nocturnal raid on the refrigerator’ and  ‘tripping over the dog’.  Why
use this  letter as a  conclusion to his  escapades in Bomber Command?   Victor had not changed
much.  In 1988 he was still flying…and his description of getting his plane out of the mud has a  sort
of amusing yet concerned ring to it.  His wife Louise was  the young girl  he met in Quebec City
just before he went overseas in World  War Two.  She must have known about his  escapades
with Hank  Freeman and been amused rater than offended.

Perhaps the main reason I have included  this  letter however is his  mention of Ken  Sweatman, the
bomb aimer one HX313.   The crew bonded and kept in touch.  They became family.

Then there is the dog.  Probably the same dog that nearly killed me when Victor described a mouse
running back and  forth in the dog’s mouth between lips and teeth.  “The dog looked at me, Alan,
with a questioning dog grin as if saying ‘what do I do now?’    That caused me to laugh too hard…injest
a piece of stake that was too big for my esophagus…no air..gagging…leapt up on the restaurant
table.  Whereupon Victor, lightning speed…whirled me around  and  locked his hands below my rib
cage…pulled firmly.  And saved my life.  

I hope that this  transcription of his diary can be seen as payback.

alan skeoch
dec.  2019

  Ken Sweatman,  Bomb Aimer on HX 313.

Only image known of  HX 313, The Blonde Bomber.

Victor Poppa’s hand written map  documenting his escape from POW camp at Luckenwalde.  Victor and  his friend Terry Seeley
joined 9 French nurses in a trek across Germany to the American sector.

Victor sent this  drawing to me in 1984, saying ‘this is what the Long March  was really like’

Copy from a page in Victor Poppa’ diary.  More below.




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 


Diary of Sergeant Ben Couchman
P.O.W kept the following pencil written diary during the forced march from Bankau in Poland to Luckenwalde near Potsdam during January/February, 1945.
January 17th, 1945: Bankau Stalag Luft 7
Things went as usual until about 11:00am when we were given orders by the Germans to leave ahead of the Russian advance. Then the panic started. Food that was likely to be left was eaten. Headquarters, stores and the cook house were ransacked.
Rumours were plentiful:
“P.O.W’s unable to walk would be left behind.”
“During the march for every man who escaped or tried to escape, five would be shot.”
“We were outflanked by the Russians and there was no hope of the march succeeding.”
There was a roll call at 4:00pm and we were told that probably the march would commence early the next morning, at the latest mid day. During this day there had been a continuous line of trucks, wagons and carts carrying military and refugees, proceeding to the west along the road passing the camp.
About 6pm Germans ordered ‘prepare to move’ and issued marching rations: half loaf, margarine, honey and piece of sausage. At 10:30pm ordered to go to bed.
January 18th
Woke up shivering as my blankets had remained packed overnight. Soup 8:30am, roll call 9:30am. Formed into three parties and were told this would be our marching order. The roads were full of lorries, horse and cart and refugees from the Russian advance.
Latest rumour:
“We were marching to Stalag Luft 3 Sagan, which was 200kms away.”
At 4:00pm in the afternoon another roll call ordered and we were informed that the march was postponed for two of three days. Half an hour later we were ordered to parade ready to leave.
We waited for about an hour and then drifted off to the billets. The German guards were as confused as we were. Food was becoming a problem, but a further raid on the cookhouse produced some oats and treacle.
The air raid warning sounded while we were preparing the watery porridge, and the lights went out. After which all the ‘non walking’ P.O.W’s were shipped out of camp to travel with civilian refugees. We were told to parade at 4:00am the next morning, and so to bed.
January 19th
Lights on at 3:30am, paraded at 4:00am. Stood around in the cold snow until 7:00am when we trudged out. That day we walked 28kms, with the longest stop being half an hour. As we had proceeded the P.O.W’s had discarded in the roadside much of their possessions that were impossible to carry through the snow. Marching with an accordion was impossible for one P.O.W and it was tossed into the snow with a lot of other possessions. At night we were lodged in barns, I slept (?) sitting up.
January 20th
Awakened 4:00am and started marching about 6:00am Gerry said that Kreuzburg, that we went through yesterday, had fallen to the Russians and that they were now about 10kms behind us. Gunfire could be heard all day. The marching was difficult in the soft snow and the P.O.W’s threw more of their kit away. The guards picked a lot of it up.
Reached Karlsruhe shortly before noon and were put in a brick factory. Received cups of acorn coffee from field kitchen. At 7:00pm we were back on the road. The bridges over the river Oder were to be blown up by 8:00am the next morning and we were to be over the river before that time.
January 21st
We had walked all night through the snow and crossed the Oder river at dawn. We were told that there would be rest and accommodation at a village about 5kms ahead. We heard the explosions of the Oder bridges as we marched.
When we arrived at the village there was no shelter for us. We walked a further 8kms and found a refuge in barns. During the night some men dropped out due to the intense cold and fatigue. The only food we had during the past twenty four hours was three slices of bread, a spoonful of bully, a small bag of biscuits and a cup of coffee we had marched for about fourteen hours through the snow. To bed and the name of the village is Buckette.
January 22nd
Roused by Gerry at 1:30am who said we had to move quickly as the Russians had crossed the Oder north of us. There was an argument with Gerry before we marched another 20kms.
We sheltered once again in big barns. We received one biscuit between two and a pound of margarine to last five days. we dug in the frozen earth and found pieces of potatoes, carrots and peads and made ourselves a cup of soup, and then to our blankets. We had two blankets and slept fully dressed with every bit of clothing that we possessed. The village nearby was Jenkwiz.
January 23rd
We were called at 6:00am and were on the road at 8:00am promised better billets and a good meal when we arrived at our next destination. However, when we finally arrived it was more big cold barns, a cup of tea, a cup of soup, we found a few spuds then to bed.
January 24th
The village we were in was called Wansen and we were told that we could rest all day. Made a fire and roasted a few spuds. Supplied with 2 half cups of soup and quarter of bread from field kitchen.
January 25th

Wakened at 1:30am and on the road at 3:00am. Weather was warmer, but walking through the slush more difficult. We passed through Strehlen and later in the day we put up in a barn at Heidersdorf, having walked 30kms. Issued with a cup of soup and a fifth of a loaf. French P.O.W’s said that the Russians were nearer to Sagan than we were.
January 26th
Stayed all day, scrounged some spuds and beans made some stew. Issued with two half cups of soup from field kitchen and a seventh of a block of margarine. I went to bed.
January 27th
Awoke at 8:00am and as there was nothing doing stayed in blankets until 10:00am. Issued with half a loaf of bread to last two days. Started marching 11:30am Roads crammed with civilian refugees. Rested in barns after walking 20kms.
January 28th
Wakened at 3:30am and on the road at 5:00am. Walking easier as the snow had hardened. Walked 25kms many of the boys had frost bite in their feet. Arrived at the barns at 1:30pm It was very cold and no fires were allowed, so I went to bed.
January 29th and 30th
Stayed in blankets until soup was served. Other rations were seven biscuits, 1oz margarine and one tenth of a tin of bully beef. At 4:00pm ordered to prepare to move and started off at 5:30pm.
A blizzard was blowing and at times walking was tough as the snow was two to three feet thick. Transport littered the roads, stuck in drifts, and in the dark we had to walk single file to get round them. Reached our barns at 4:00am We had walked 21kms and Gerry tried to crowd us into two small barns. Then they opened up a small loft. It was 7:00am when I crawled into my bed. A tragedy hit when I had to go outside for two minutes and someone stole my blankets.
January 31st
Woke up about 7:30 but stayed in bed until about 11:00am. Roasted a few spuds I had scrounged from a Polish girl, and made a brew of tea. Gerry made us parade while he counted us, after which we marched to Goldberg where we would get transport ration from the field kitchen: half a cup of rolled oats, a little coffee, tenth of a block of margarine, and a small piece of bread. The weather was much colder, I cooked my oats and went to bed.
February 1st
Awakened at 6:00am on the road by 8:00am. The roads were clearer of refugees. It had rained during the night, melted the snow, and there were puddles everywhere. We stopped at some barns about 8kms from Goldberg. There was little room in the barn. I slept at a cowshed further down the road, after fencing off the cows and spreading straw over the dried cowdung. Gerry rations two fifths of a loaf, half ounce of margarine and half a cup of oats.
February 2nd
Awakened by chaps getting water. Cooked more oats and a couple of spuds. Cows escaped and so we turned them outside.
February 3rd
Woke up fairly late, finished off my oats and drew half a cup of barley from field kitchen. Gerry issued rations half a loaf and a quarter of a pound of margarine to last three days. Let the cows out just after dark.
February 4th
Had to get up at 8:00am to let the cows back in. Ate some bread and a cup of soup. Went to bed at 11:00pm.
February 5th
Cows broke loose at 2:00am and trampled all over our beds. We managed to get them out, but we were awakened at 4:00am and we were on the road at 6:00am. Arrived at Goldbery about 9:00am and were loaded into railway box cars which were thirty feet long and eight feet wide, thirty six men to a truck. There was not enough room for all to even sit down so we took it in turns. Travelled about 100kms and stayed the night in a siding.
February 6th
Train moved off at 6:30am and stopped about every fifteen minutes. Travelled about 100kms finished off my food.
February 7th
Hardly slept. Train moved about 5kms during the whole day. Issued with one cup of acorn coffee. Train moved about 25kms during the night.
February 8th
Everyone awake very weak and shaky. About 10:00am the train stopped and we got out. Walked very slowly about 1.5kms to the camp at Luckenwalde. We were given one cigarette each. After which we had a hot shower and a cup of soup and spuds. It was our first food for nearly three days.
Bankau to Winterfield = 30km
Winterfield to Karlsruhe = 20km
Karlsruhe to Pugwitz = 41km
Pugwitz to Grosser Jewitz = 20km
Grosser Jewitz to Wansen = 25km
Wansen to Heidersdorf = 30km
Heidersdorf to Plaffendorf = 20km
Paffendorf to Peterswitz = 21km
Peterswitz to Praunitz = 12km
Praunitz to Goldberg = 8km
Total marched = 227km