Three of the survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana – George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, and Wilfred Frank Miller – were being held as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV. Stalag Luft IV was located in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, which is now Tychowo, Poland.
Near the end of WWII, with Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet Red Army advancing from the east, the Nazis began a series of forced marches of prisoners out of the prisoner of war camps. There is no definitive answer as to why the prisoners were marched from the camps or what the Nazis planned for them in the end. One theory is that the prisoners were marched out of the camps simply to delay their liberation.
By the end of January 1945, the plan to march allied prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV and away from liberation by the Soviet Red Army was ready to begin. The winter of 1945 was one of Germany’s coldest on record with blizzard conditions. The prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were ill-equipped for a march in such weather. They had been underfed and were not clothed properly for the conditions.
On February 6, 1945 the march out of Stalag Luft IV began. With just a few hours notice to prepare to march out of the camp, the prisoners scrambled to gather what they could.
The prisoners did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road. The march out of Stalag Luft IV has been given many names – the Death March, the Black March, and even the Shoe Leather Express. Most of those that survived just called it “The March”. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, usually called it the “Forced March” when he told me stories of sleeping in the hay and stealing a chicken for food.
Back home, the relatives and friends of Farrar, Liniger, and Miller pictured the three dealing with the hardships of prison camp life. They had no idea their loved ones were enduring something even worse. “The March” meant walking fifteen to twenty miles a day. It meant very little food. It meant sleeping in piles of hay in barns and sometimes out in the open. It meant exhaustion, illness, and starvation. Some would not reach liberation, but most just kept marching, with thoughts of home and family keeping them going.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014