in the afternoon we experienced a high wind with blinding snow
which made marching very uncomfortable along flat roads through
fields covered with thick untrodden snow or along avenues of
pine trees; it was a very sparsely populated area and singularly
unattractive after one has seen the pine forests for the first
time. Towards dusk when we knew we must shortly halt for the
night the column took a wrong turning and had to retrace the
route for a mile; spirits were already low and this incident
was a further blow after a long hard day of unaccustomed marching.
However soon after 4 o'clock we entered a long straggling village
called Kunau and at the far end we came to a large farmyard surrounded
on three sides by big barns where we were to spend the night.
These barns and the lofts were used for storing flax straw and
were completely without heat or light so that by the time 1000
men had managed to find space to lie down it was dark and there
was no alternative but to settle down for the night.
The barns were not locked but guards were posted all round the
farm on which a number of French and Polish prisoners were working
but these guards were not vigilant so that a few Frenchmen among
us were able to contact their compatriots and hide until the
Russians arrived - at least that was the plan but we never heard
what became of their venture.
As for our party of 11 this first night in the flax was by far
the worst we had to endure; in spite of two blankets each, all
our clothes and burrowing deeply into the flax, the cold was
intense and sleep impossible; in addition most of us had difficulty
in keeping the circulation going in our toes. When I set out
next morning the pain in my toes convinced me that I had frostbite
and this together with blisters which had developed on each heel
made the following day an agonising one.
Meals in the barns of course were very scratch affairs although
our group was lucky enough to succeed in bribing the farm people
into supplying hot water for a brew at breakfast time. This was
the first of many occasions on the journey when bribery was accepted
and we were surprised at the willingness of Germans to trade
with prisoners of war for cigarettes, coffee, soap and chocolate;
they had been short of these things for many years but I doubt
whether British civilians would have behaved similarly towards
a body of German prisoners marching through England.
The next day's march began soon after 8am with snow still falling
and everyone feeling somewhat worse than the previous day mainly
due to lack of sleep for two consecutive nights and a good deal
of foot trouble. We had spent such an uncomfortable night that
our party of 11 was determined to fare better at our next farm
so two of us had their loads lightened and shared between the
remainder in order that they could lead the column; in this way
they would be able to find a stable or other warm accommodation
at the end of the day. We plodded on with short breaks every
hour and 30 mins for lunch normally in the middle of a thick
wood for shelter.
Here I must pay tribute to the German Commandant of Belaria who
accompanied us all the way, usually on foot himself, and always
with his magnificent Alsatian police dog. He had no responsibility
for the march beyond delivering us from Belaria to Spremberg
and I consider that he did try, within the limits of his powers,
to act humanely towards us. If the SS had been in charge it would
have been a very different story.