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Monthly Archives: January 2019

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The Shoe Leather Express

Seventy-four years ago, 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 their 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, the POW camp in which Dad was held prisoner, 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.

Many books have been written about the 86-day 500-mile march of Stalag Luft IV prisoners. The best book on the subject is the original The Shoe Leather Express by Joseph P. O’Donnell. Joe was Stalag Luft IV POW 1414 and experienced the prison camp and the march firsthand. Joe wrote a series of six books on the subject of POWs, with the first book of the Shoe Leather Express series subtitled The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany.

The complete list of the Shoe Leather Express books is as follows:

  • Book 1:  The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany
  • Book 2:  The Shoe Leather Express Book II, Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany, A Potpourri of Prisoner of War Experiences in Nazi Germany During World War II
  • Book 3:  The Pangs of the Thorn, Book III of The Shoe Leather Express, A Collection of True Stories of Prisoners of War in Japan and Nazi Germany WWII
  • Book 4:  A History of Stalag Luft IV, May 1944 – February 1945, Book IV of The Shoe Leather Express
  • Book 5:  And Then We Came Upon A Time of Great Rewarding, A Time of Remembrance, A Collection of Prayers and Poems for and by Prisoners of War
  • Book 6:  Talent Behind Barbed Wire, A Collection of Sketches and Cartoons of Prisoner of War Life

The harsh conditions of the march from Stalag Luft IV and treatment of the POWs is not well known. The march itself is rarely a topic of discussion in the subject of WWII history. But that needs to change. February 6, 2020 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the start of the Black March, and this event from history should be recognized and remembered.

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March was commemorated in the Congressional Record. On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, John William Warner entered the commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237). It may be read here in one of my past posts.

As for Joseph O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express books, they are out of print and hard to find through used book sources, but the preface and first two chapters of the original Book I may be read online courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler kindly provided me with the titles of all the books in Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express series. Candy began researching her father’s WWII and POW experiences long before I began researching mine and has produced both a website and book with must-read information for anyone interested in learning more about the WWII POW experience.

Candy’s book, What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father, is available on Amazon.

Candy’s website, Remember History, offers a wealth of information about her father and about her friend, Joseph O’Donnell, and his POW experiences.

As Candy and I and other sons and daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs have learned, it all starts with an inquisitive mind and a desire to know the truth about our fathers’ captivity during WWII. Don’t let this important part of our country’s history and your family’s history be lost to the past.

Learn everything you can by reading published books and personal accounts published online.  Search for your own family WWII-era letters and photos long packed away.

If you’re lucky enough to have a living father, grandfather, or uncle in his mid-90’s, ask him if he served in WWII. Ask about his war service and learn everything you can from him. If he is a former prisoner of war, find out everything you can about his POW experience. Record it. Share it with the world or just share it with future generations of your family.

We must not forget their service and we must not forget their sacrifice. Remember and make these men proud.

Resources

Preface and first two chapters of The Shoe Leather Express Book I

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father by Candy Kyler Brown

Candy Kyler Brown’s website, Remember History

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March commemorated in the Congressional Record

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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WWII Timeline – Fall 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1936

October 1, 1936

Spain’s Nationalists declare Franco head of Spain.

October 25, 1936
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sign a treaty of cooperation or friendship.

October 29, 1936

Soviet tanks and planes see action in Spain on the side of the Loyalists.

November 1, 1936

Roosevelt is re-elected to his second term as U.S. president.

Germany and Italy announce a Rome-Berlin Axis one week after signing a treaty of friendship on October 25. Benito Mussolini, speaking to a crowd in Milan, said,

the line between Rome and Berlin is not a partition but rather an axis around which all European states…can also collaborate.

This was the first time Axis was used to mean Italy and its allies. The main Axis powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. Germany was led by Adolf Hitler and dominated most of continental Europe; Italy was led by Benito Mussolini and dominated the Mediterranean Sea; and Japan was led by Emperor Hirohito and dominated East Asia and the Pacific.

November 6, 1936

Germany’s “Condor Legion” of planes and pilots arrives in Spain to support the Nationalists.

November 18, 1936

Germany and Italy formally recognize General Francisco Franco’s new Spanish government.

November 25, 1936

Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan sign the Anti-Comintern (Communist International) Pact which was directed against the international Communist movement.

December 1936

In China, General Chang Hsueh-liang orchestrated the kidnapping of Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. His intent was to force Chiang Kai-shek to concentrate his time and energy on confronting the Japanese rather than the Chinese Communists.

December 11, 1936

George VI is crowned King of England. His brother, Edward VIII, had married American divorcée Wallis Simpson and had abdicated the throne. George VI’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth, would succeed him upon his death in 1952 .

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Anti-Comintern Pact on Wikipedia

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The New Year

My father, George Edwin Farrar, spent New Year’s Eve seventy-four years ago as a prisoner of war in Germany’s Stalag Luft IV prison camp. He had been a POW since the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between his B-17 and that of another flying fortress in his own group. If he believed his captors, he knew that he was the only survivor of his crew.

On that New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1944, Daddy’s family back home in Atlanta, Georgia received a telegram with joyous news as the year drew to a close. Their son was a prisoner of war, but he was alive.

The next day, the first day of a bright new year, Daddy’s mother sent her own telegram to the family of the pilot of his crew, John Oliver Buslee, announcing the good news. Mr. Buslee responded with a January 1, 1945 letter.

The telegram that we received from you this morning was indeed a piece of good news for the New Year.  To learn of your son’s safety is indeed wonderful and I hope means such good news may come regarding all of the other boys and more that this terrible struggle will soon end and that all may return and lets hope that the peoples of the World will realize that there is but one way to get along and that is in a peaceful harmonious manner forgetting all greed and selfishness and faith in the Lord.

My wife and my daughter and myself are overjoyed in learning that your son has been reported.

In the midst of despair, one telegram provided hope and joy for the new year.

Seventy-four years later, we are reminded that lessons are learned and then forgotten. Greed and selfishness live on and peaceful harmony will forever be fleeting. Faith in something higher than oneself comes all too seldom, mostly in moments of joy or despair.

The world is not going to change overnight, or even this year, but good intentions on our own part and kindness towards others would be a good place to start. Have faith in a happy new year.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019