The following is an extract about her father, Ted Wells', recollection of the forced march from Stalagluft III from a submission by Helen Robinson to the BBC WW2 site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A2064845 . Ted's story is presented here with Helen's permssion. It is a further corroberation of the events relating to the Forced March and is considered relevant to the other accounts shown in tyhis section.
Diary of Saturday, 27 January 1945
(This is an account, in Ted's own words, of his last day in Stalagluft III, where he had been a prisoner since February 1944.)
Bob Coulter and I were playing double patience across the table. The room was quiet for once. Then Jessop's voice came down the corridor, 'The Germans have given orders that everybody must be ready to move off inside an hour,' and the flap was on.
For a fortnight previously the Russian advance had caused nearly everybody to make preparations for a move, more especially when German sanction had been given for the making of rucksacks. Now at five past nine we had an hour to do everything we had not done before.
Packing and sledge making
Time was at first spent feverishly packing, then in making sledges. Beds and chairs were ripped to pieces. The sledges were colossal creations, with eight men pulling, and tiny one-man affairs made from chairs. There was a foot of snow over the country, and every hope that the roads would be in good conditions.
Luckily, with all we had to do, the departure time was put off, first for one hour then another. It was past two before we finally moved off in a long column southward. Rumours of lightning, ruthless advances by the Ruskies made us wonder how far off the end of the war could be. It seemed that the idea was to march 75km (47 miles) in three days.
That Sunday morning it seemed rather fun. It was a beautiful night with plenty of moon. The novelty of the thing, the hope that the end of the war was close, and natural kriegy POW optimism made us think it wouldn't be too bad. v Anything goes We made Halbau [sic] in the middle of the morning. French workers gave us some news of the war. It sounded good. We made Friewaldau [sic] by three in the afternoon, and by then were feeling very tired. The whole of the compound was located in the village square.
Discipline went all to pot.
Kriegies were fraternising with the civilians, despite the objections of the local Wehrmacht [German armed forces]. Old ladies and rosy-cheeked little children were wandering around with cans of hot water and coffee. Energetic trading was going on between the English and Germans with cigarettes and coffee for sledges and anything going.
For the first time the complete lack of organisation for this march became apparent. We were supposed to be billeted on the town, but there just wasn't room. About 300 bods out of 2,000 were left there, and this included chaps who had been able to make their own arrangements. It's surprising what can be got for a tin of American coffee.
The end of the day proved the worst. The bulk of the column moved on, trailing over some two miles of road. At every village we stopped, and a few bods were left in a barn or stable. Those who had collapsed or were sick were picked up by trucks.
The country was very open, and the wind howled across the fields laden with snow. We were halted for most of the time and only made about a kilometre an hour (0.75 mph). I didn't have any frostbite, but, God, it was cold enough.
Billeted in barns and stables
The tail end of the column, me included, turned into a big farm courtyard. Hundreds of exhausted kriegies pushed around trying to find any protection at all against the cold and snow. A large party could only get a roof over them and straw, piled in a heap, under them. We tugged and shoved a jumble of farm machinery out into the snow and bunked on straw. We were warm but little else.
I remember that the boy owner of the farm looked as though he had stepped straight out of the Middle Ages. He was beautifully handsome in classic Greek style and extremely well dressed in a dark-green top coat with fur collar and leather jackboots. The column had made a sorry mess of his farm in their desperate effort to get warm in the night.
My impression of all the villages we passed through during these first two days was one of extreme cleanliness and neatness. The attractive-looking and variously designed cottages stood up boldly by themselves, not snugly retreating behind their own garden trees as in England.
'On to Moskau'
The next day the cry was 'On to Moskau' 16 miles) away. According to the signposts the first five miles marching took us some half mile further from Sagan, so roundabout was our route.
The roads were not in very good condition for pulling sledges, being deeply ridged by horses and carts. There were quite a number of carts on the road, loaded with refugees and their furniture.
Uphill all the way
There is very little to record for the main part of this day. Priebus was the only town of any size en route. No German rations had found their way to us, and we went easy on the Red Cross food we were carrying. We were occasionally able to get hot water from civilians. Most of the way seemed to be uphill.
Moskau, far from being the end of the day's journey, proved to be the beginning of the worst three miles of the day. We were split into parties of 300 and lodged at a French commando lager (camp), other parties being in barns, the local cinema etc. We were able to recuperate during the stay there. Small supplies of food began to get through.
It seems that the plan is to filter the whole of Stalagluft III, which is now spread across a large area all over the countryside, gradually through the junction at Spremberg 24km (15 miles) away and take them to lagers prepared elsewhere. Where, we don't know.
Thaw sets in
When we left Moskau the thaw had set in, and pulling sledges had become increasingly difficult. The route was littered with the remains of sledges, ditched after the owners had inadequately packed the loads.
The whole route from Sagan to Spremberg was marked by ditched kit. Equipment and food that must have been great value to the local inhabitants was just thrown away. Those at the rear of the column (incidentally some two miles from the front) were able to remedy any deficiencies in their kit by keeping their eyes open and pillaging the discarded loads. Tobacco, uniforms, blankets, tins of food could be picked up at will.
'Forty hommes, eight chevaux'
The remainder of the trip was completed in two stages. We were then packed into trucks of the '40 hommes, eight chevaux' variety and endured two extremely uncomfortable days driving. We were only allowed out of the trucks to perform natural functions and not always then.
As a result of the water drunk during the last spell and the hardships of the march nearly everybody had dysentery in some more or less mild form and had lost a deal of weight. The International Red Cross (IRC) investigated conditions on the march.
Ted remembered a two-day journey in cattle trucks as one of the most unpleasant things he had to endure. He had dysentery and recalled later the kindness of his companions. Service women were deputed to welcome the released prisoners.
Ted recalled his response to the sight of the first female for many months: 'I don't think I reacted as intended - all I could think of was to get my beard shaved off and then to get home just as fast as possible.'
On VE day, 8 May 1945, Ted arrived home.