It is March 28, 1945. For George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, Wilfred Frank Miller, and the rest of the former prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, it is the fifty-first day of marching.
The prisoners were divided into large groups or “columns” for the march. Farrar, Liniger, and Miller may or may not have been part of the same column. Such records do not exist. For Farrar and Miller, we are unsure exactly where in the march they were on that day, but we do know where Harry Liniger was. Harry was boarding a train.
A note Liniger wrote that day on a piece of cigarette rolling paper was recently found tucked into his New Testament by his son, Harry. Almost 69 years later, it briefly describes that day.
51 day on the road. Boarded train at 2PM March 28. Recd [received] 3/8 of a loaf of bread per man. 60 men on a car.
Joseph P. O’Donnell, another former prisoner of Stalag Luft IV, describes that day in more detail in his book, The Shoe Leather Express. O’Donnell writes that they arrived at 3PM and were loaded sixty-five men to each boxcar – boxcars that were designed to hold forty men or eight horses, providing the name “the 40 and 8.” They were “jammed into the boxcars and the doors were sealed shut.” O’Donnell continues to describe the scene, explaining that there was not enough room for all of the men to sit down at the same time. The sick were allowed to lie down and the rest of the men took turns sitting and standing.
The train ride did not turn into a “ride” for a very long time. The train sat without moving, other than occasional movements back and forth of one hundred to two hundred feet. The tops of the boxcars were unmarked, making them targets for allied aircraft. Transportation modes were prime targets of the allies. O’Donnell considered their “confinement in the boxcars and the intermittent movement of the boxcars as a diabolic and intentional plan by the German commandant to have us destroyed by our own Air Force.”
O’Donnell described conditions in the boxcars as “unbearable”, considering the number of P.O.W.’s with chronic dysentery. The men were denied water that was available nearby during their torturous wait. Finally, on March 30, after forty hours of confinement, the train began its journey to Fallingbostel, a thirty mile trip. The men were never let out of the boxcars until they arrived in Fallingbostel.
From the Fallingbostel train station, the men were marched to Stalag Luft XIB.
Thank you to Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. for sharing his father’s note.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014