Seventy-five years ago in the month of March 1945, the POW’s of Stalag Luft IV continued their forced march across Germany which they had begun the previous month on February 6. Traveling on foot with very little food was so very difficult that when they saw an opportunity to travel by rail, it was seen to be a welcome relief. Instead, it turned out to be likely one of the most horrific parts of their journey.
For these men who completed the march and eventually gained their liberation and freedom, nightmares of this time in their lives would likely include these few days of the eighty-six day total when they were loaded into 40 x 8 boxcars for a short journey deep into hell.
Joseph P. O’Donnell, the Stalag Luft IV POW who recorded his experience and that of fellow POW’s in the Shoe Leather Express books, included many individual stories of the boxcars in both the first book in the series, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, and the second book, The Shoe Leather Express – Book II -Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany.
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Joe O’Donnell wrote of his personal experience that on Day 51, March 28, 1945, his group arrived at the town of Ebstorf, a small town west of the Elbe River. At 3 PM, he was loaded onto a 40 x 8 boxcar with sixty-four other POW’s. A 40 x 8 boxcar is a train or rail car that is designed to carry forty men or 8 head of cattle.
They, and other groups of sixty or more POW’s, were jammed into the cars and the doors locked shut. Although the sick were allowed to lie down, and there were many sick, the remainder of the men had to take turns standing and sitting as there was not room for all to sit at the same time.
At first, the men were relieved that they would be able to ride rather than walk to their next destination, but relief soon turned to horror when they realized that the boxcars were more dangerous than the road. The boxcars did not move for more than ten hours except for occasional movements of 100 to 200 yards back and forth from their original position.
The boxcars had no markings on them, nothing that allied aircraft could see from the air, to indicate they were filled with allied POW’s. Aerial activity in the area was considerable and train movements were prime targets of allied aircraft. O’Donnell considered their confinement in the boxcars to be an intentional plan of the Germans to have the POW’s killed by the strafings and bombings from their own aircraft.
Aside from the fear of the POW’s inside the boxcars, the conditions inside were unbearable as the men had nowhere to urinate or defecate other than the boxcar floor, although some were able to break through holes in the floor for the purpose. On top of this, many were stricken with chronic dysentery.
After forty hours of confinement in the boxcars, the trains moved out toward Fallingbostel on March 30, 1945, for a thirty-mile journey. The men were not allowed out of the boxcars or provided with drinking water for the entire trip.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 22
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Bob Richards, Jr. (8th AF, 392nd BG, 577th Bomb Squadron) from Hanover, Pennsylvania, and John Hargrove (445th BG, 702nd Bomb Squadron) from Delran, New Jersey, noted in their personal journals that they were loaded into the 40 x 8 boxcars also on March 28, but in Hohenbunftorf, and traveled to Uelsen. However, they reported that only fifty men were confined in each car in which they spent two days and nights.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 35
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Walter V. Lawrence (8th AF, 44th BG, 506th Bomb Squadron) was on the March 28 train ride to Fallingbostel in the 40 x 8 boxcars.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, pages 39/40
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Lawrence “Larry” S. Moses (8th AF, 452nd BG, 728th Bomb Squadron) reported in his log that he left Uelzen by 40 x 8 boxcars on March 28, 1945 and arrived at Altengrabow, Stalag IIA, on March 30. (Although his date chart indicates he left Hohenbonstorf on the 28th, arrived Uelzen the same day, left Uelzen on the 29th, and arrived Altengrabow on the 30th).
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, pages 43/44
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Louis Wayne Dirickson (9th AF, 409th BG (Light), 643rd Bomb Squadron):
3/28/45 – Walked 7 kilometers to Ebstorf and 1 1/2 kilometers to the train station. Loaded into boxcars (60/car) at 1:30 P.M. we were given 3/8 loaf of bread and 1/5 of a 3/4 lb. of margarine for three days.
3/29/45 – Sat all night in the boxcars, all of today and part of the evening, without moving an inch. Jerries gave us 2 buckets of water for 60 men and nothing to eat. Started moving at 11 P.M.
3/30/45 – Arrived at Station at 12 o’clock – walked 2 kilometers to Stalag XIB located at Fallingbostel – got inside the camp at 3 P.M. (100 men to a tent). Got a carrot and barley soup at 6 P.M. Darn good.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 49
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Dr. Leslie Caplan provided testimony to Lt. Col. William C. Hoffman of the War Crimes Office on December 31, 1947, stating:
At 1500 hours on 28 March 1945 a large number of our men were loaded on freight cars at Ebbsdorf, Germany. We were forced in at the rate of 60 men or more to a car. This was so crowded that there was not enough room for all men to sit at the same time. We remained in these jammed boxcars until 0030 hours March 30, 1945 when our train left Ebbsdorf. During this 33 hour period few men were allowed out of the cars for the cars were sealed shut most of the time. The suffering this caused was unnecessary for there was a pump with a good supply of water in the railroad yards a short distance from the train. At one time I was allowed to fetch some water for a few of our men who were suffering from dysentery. Many men had dysentery at the time and the hardship of being confined to the freight cars was aggravated by the filth and stench resulting from men who had to urinate and defecate inside the cars. We did not get off these freight cars until we reached Fallingbostel around noon of 30 March 1945 and then we marched to Stalag IIB. The freight cars we were transported in had no marking on them to indicate that they were occupied by helpless prisoners of war. There was considerable aerial activity in the area at the time and there was a good chance of being strafed.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 70
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Joseph P. O’Donnell, in a section named “Kriegie Land,” related an undated summarized log entry which followed his March 30, 1945 entry. I am not certain if this was O’Donnell’s personal log or that of another prisoner.
We boarded boxcars at Ebstorf. We got on at 3 o’clock P.M. 60 men to a car. We stayed in the car all that night, next day, that night, another day and night. I arrived here [Stalag XIB, Fallingbustel] the next day at 12 NOON.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 86
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Tom Farrow (8th AF, 384th BG, 547th Bomb Squadron), walking with fellow 384th-er Ray Jablonski, wrote,
On Tuesday, the 27th of March, our group, numbering about 400, was crowded into boxcars, about 100 to a car designed to hold 40. We were given a quarter loaf of bread and the doors were shut and locked. The train started immediately but only for that day. We were stopped all night, the next day and night. The car had very small windows at each end for ventilation but was not enough to overcome the stench of diarrhea and vomit that soon covered the floor. There was not enough room for everyone to sit down, so we sat with our knees drawn up with another P.O.W. leaning on our knees.
On Thursday evening we began moving slowly through the night, stopping on Good Friday morning. The doors were opened and everyone struggled out, gulping fresh air. I never knew completely about the casualties of the trip. Everyone in our car made it, but a least two in the next car had died. We were marched to a very large camp to a compound of Russian workers. Large tents had been erected but there were no beds or straw.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book II, page 32
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James W. McCloskey of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, wrote in his log that he was loaded in a boxcar (48 in each) on March 17, 1945, rode all day on March 18 and 19, was in Hamburg Station on March 20 and received 1/2 bread, 1/3 margerine, and wurst, then arrived at Fallingbostel, Stalag 357, on March 21.
~The Shoe Leather Express – Book II, page 86
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Harry Liniger (8th AF, 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squadron) boarded a train to Fallingbostel on March 28, 1945. I wrote about Harry’s experience almost five years ago and you can read it in its entirety here. Harry used a cigarette paper to record this piece of his POW history,
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.
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I don’t know if all of the POW’s on the march from Stalag Luft IV had this same experience, but many of them were forced to endure a train ride through hell on the road to their liberation and freedom.
Upon capture, the Germans would tell their prisoners, “For you, the war is over.” I don’t think that statement was the least bit accurate. These men were living the war every single day, even in captivity. For these men, the war wasn’t over until their liberation and return to civilian life, and for some of them, the war would never end until the end of life itself.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020
The March of the POWs, of which my father George Edwin Farrar was one, from Stalag Luft IV began 75 years ago on February 6, 1945. It continued for 86 days and covered 500 miles across Pomerania and Germany.
Joseph P. O’Donnell, one of the Stalag Luft IV POW’s and the author of the Shoe Leather Express books wrote in his first volume, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, about the evacuation of the prison camp and the 86-day 500-mile march of which my father, George Edwin Farrar, was a part.
When I was a child, Daddy told me that he had been in a POW camp and had to march across Germany, but the details were too horrific for a father to tell his young daughter. I did not learn the horrors of what he had endured until many years after he died. Those I learned from the books of Joseph O’Donnell, Candy Kyler Brown, Laura Edge, and David Dorfmeier, and from the memories, written and oral, of some of the participants.
Joseph O’Donnell wrote in the opening pages of his first volume that,
By February 3, 1945, the front line was 45 miles south of Luft IV and extended to the Oder River, 40 miles east of Berlin…
With the Russian Red Army moving so close to the POW camp, it was a time of uncertainty for the prisoners. Would they be liberated by the Russians? Would they all be executed before the Red Army’s arrival? Would they evacuate the camp ahead of the Russians? Most expected an evacuation, but it was not a certainty.
We knew our evacuation was imminent as the Russians were advancing from the east. We could look through the cracks in the shutters over the windows and see the flashes from the artillery; and if the wind was right, we could hear the artillery at the front. My estimation was that we were less than 30 miles from the front lines.
Early on the morning of February 5, 1945, seventy-five years ago today, an announcement was made that the POWs would not evacuate the camp. But at 10 a.m., another announcement was made that they would be moving out the next morning.
The prisoners were told that they would be walking for three days. They were each given 1/3 loaf of bread and were allowed to take as many Red Cross parcels as they wanted. With each parcel weighing eleven pounds, the prisoners were forced to discard what they couldn’t comfortably carry.
Joseph O’Donnell wrote that the first day’s march was uneventful, and that they walked eighteen kilometers, a little over eleven miles.
But for men who were already malnourished, injured, and otherwise in poor physical shape from their confinement, this was no easy task.
Knowing that my father was one of the men packing up and marching out of the camp exactly seventy-five years ago sends a chill down my spine. To this point, he had already survived a mid-air collision (the sole survivor of his crew), an attack by German civilians after he parachuted to the ground, injuries requiring a two-month hospital stay, and months in the prison camp with very little food.
At twenty-three years old, survival was his main goal in life. Marching through the gates of the prison camp must have seemed overwhelming, with a mix of a sense of freedom with the uncertainty of what lay ahead. A yearning to see his family again kept him placing one foot in front of the other for the next eighty-six days.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020
I recently wrote about my dad and his Stalag Luft IV roomate, George Farrar, Lawrence Newbold, and Christmas 1944. By early January 1945, after a dismal 1944 holiday season, the POWs believed they were in for a long stay in Stalag Luft IV.
Stalag Luft IV was located at Gross Tychow, Pomerania, (now Tychowo, Poland), 20 kilometers (about 12 1/2 miles) southeast of Belgard.
On January 12, 1945, the Soviets launched the first phase of their long-planned Winter Offensive, with the Russian Red Army invading eastern Germany. German forces were greatly outnumbered as German troops and equipment had earlier been transferred from the eastern front to support the operation in the Ardennes to the west. The Germans retreated ahead of the Red Army’s advance through Poland.
On January 16, Adolf Hitler moved his residence and base of operations to the underground air raid shelter/subterranean bunker complex at Berlin’s Reich Chancellery known as the Führerbunker. It would be the last of the various headquarters he used in WWII, until the last week of the war. (On April 29, Adolf Hitler would marry Eva Braun there, less than two days before they committed suicide).
On January 17, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Polish capital of Warsaw, less than 300 miles southeast of Stalag Luft IV.
The POW’s of Stalag Luft IV were aware of the Russian advance and some believed liberation by the Red Army and freedom might be possible. Others feared the results of the Soviets overrunning their camp.
Soon rumors of the evacuation of the camp of 10,000 Allied airmen began circulating. Beginning January 26, approximately 3,000 of Stalag Luft IV’s most disabled POW’s were evacuated by train to Stalag Luft I at Barth and Stalag VIIA at Moosburg. One of these men was the 384th Bomb Group’s Patrick Dennis Benker.
Following the evacuation of the most disabled prisoners, POW’s from Stalag XXA at Tourn and IIB at Hammerstein arrived at Stalag Luft IV as the Soviet Red Army moved into Pomerania.
Now expecting an imminent evacuation of Stalag Luft IV, the POW’s began preparing to leave the camp.
By January 30, the Red Army had advanced within 100 miles of Berlin and Adolf Hitler delivered his final radio address. By the next day, the last day of January, 1945, the Soviets had reached the Oder River.
Chapter 13 of David Dorfmeier’s book, C-Lager, covers the month leading up to the evacuation of Stalag Luft IV in great detail. C-Lager offers excellent descriptions of camp life and the march. David’s father, Donald Dorfmeier, served as a waist gunner of the 398th Bomb Group, based at Nuthampstead, England, and was a POW at Stalag Luft IV. David’s book can be found on Amazon using the link above in the Sources section.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020
During WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner on a B-17 crew of the 384th Bomb Group of the United States Army Air Forces’ (USAAF) 8th Air Force. The 384th was based in Grafton Underwood, England. Dad was “Ed” to family, but in the Army Air Forces, he was known as “George.”
During the war, Lawrence Newbold was a wireless operator on an Avro Lancaster crew of the 50 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force (RAF). The 50 Squadron was based in Skellingthorpe, England. He was also known as “Lawrie” and signed a letter to my father as such (although I originally read it as “Laurie.”)
While the British Royal Air Force flew night bombing missions over Germany during WWII, the US Army Air Forces flew daytime missions. The result was constant, continuous bombardment against the Nazis in the European Theater.
On the night of March 18, 1944, Lawrence Newbold’s 50 Squadron took part in a mission to Frankfurt, Germany. In the course of the mission, his Lancaster was shot down and Lawrence bailed out over Germany. After interrogation, he was likely first confined to the Stalag Luft VI prison camp near the town of Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania), although I am not certain that was his original camp.
In July 1944, the POW’s of Stalag Luft VI were moved to the Stalag Luft IV prison camp in Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland), which had opened in May. Whether Lawrence was one of the prisoners who endured the dreadful transfer from Stalag Luft VI to IV, via crammed railroad boxcars, the dismal hold of a ship, and the torturous “run up the road” (also known as the “Heydekrug Run” – more on this subject at a later date), I do not know, but I do know at the time he was captured, Stalag Luft IV was not yet open and he was transferred there sometime on or after the opening in May 1944.
On the morning of September 28, 1944, George Farrar’s 384th Bomb Group took part in a mission to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, another of the group’s B-17’s collided with George’s. George, who was luckily wearing his parachute, was thrown from the aircraft which had split in two in the collision. After interrogation and a lengthy hospital stay, he was confined to Stalag Luft IV in late November, around Thanksgiving.
Lawrence and George were assigned to Room 12 of an unknown barracks and lager of Stalag Luft IV. Within weeks the newfound roommates would spend Christmas 1944 together. Lawrence undoubtedly would like to have been home to spend Christmas with his wife Marjorie and their son Michael, and George was likely dreaming of Christmas with his parents and eight siblings.
In a Christmas POW postcard to his mother, George wrote,
Hope everyone had a nice Christmas. We had as good as can be expected here.
I often think of how alone and scared my dad must have been at Christmas 1944 in a prison camp with no family to comfort him. But this year I have a new perspective. This Christmas is the 75th anniversary of the Christmas Dad spent in Stalag Luft IV and I will think of it as the Christmas Dad spent with Lawrence Newbold and his POW family of “Room 12.”
This year is special because Stephen Newbold, the son of Lawrence Newbold, and I, the daughter of George Farrar, met for the first time. When I was in England for the 384th Bomb Group reunion in September, Steve and his son, Paul, and I met in the village of Grafton Underwood, where Dad’s 384th Bomb Group’s airbase was located.
Dad would never have believed that seventy-five years after he and Lawrence Newbold endured the horrors of imprisonment in Stalag Luft IV and the 86-day 500-mile march to liberation during WWII, their descendants would have the opportunity to meet. At our meeting, the connection was instantaneous. I predict our friendship will be long lasting and I look forward to a future visit to England which must include meeting more of Lawrence Newbold’s descendants.
Even though George and Lawrence are both gone now, our pride in the sacrifices they made for us seventy-five years ago will live on through their children, grandchildren, and many generations to come.
On this 75th anniversary of the Christmas George and Lawrence spent together in 1944, to my newfound friends, Steve and Paul Newbold, and the Newbold family members I have yet to meet, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
During WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a prisoner of war held in the Stalag Luft IV prison camp for enlisted airmen. I have seen several lists of WWII airmen who were held as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV, but until recently I have never found my father’s name on any of the lists.
The only place I have seen Dad’s name associated with Stalag Luft IV is his record in the digital records of the National Archives.
Recently, Fred Preller, the webmaster of the 384th Bomb Group website, added several new reports to the site, among them a list of 384th Bomb Group airmen who were prisoners of war in all prison camps. In all, 880 airmen of the 384th Bomb Group became POWs during their WWII service, and 156 of those were held in Stalag Luft IV. Finally, I have a list of Stalag Luft IV POWs that includes my father’s name. This one’s for you, Dad.
384th Bomb Group Airmen Held POW in Stalag Luft IV
|Adams, Benjamin Harold||Marshall, Sylvester Joseph|
|Amspacher, Ray Richard||May, Gayle Gustavus|
|Anderson, Frank J||McAnear, Carlton S|
|Anderson, Jack R||McClure, Charles Roesler|
|Andrews, Ralph Cash, Jr||McCracken, Dwight Howard|
|Atkinson, Owen Glenn||Miles, Harold Ruoff|
|Baird, Ralph Edwin, Jr||Miller, Robert Lee|
|Barnes, Karl Francis||Miller, Wilfred Frank|
|Bartholomew, Everett Laverne||Misiewicz, Joseph R|
|Bedsted, Lee Roy||Moore, John William|
|Benker, Patrick Denis||Mosbey, James Millard|
|Bianca, Buddy Armand||Nickles, Mercer Chartos, Jr|
|Bingaman, Jack William||Norton, Richard Anthony|
|Boon, Howard Goodall, Jr||O’Leary, Edward Joseph|
|Borgeson, Wesley Clifton||Odom, Rufus Thurman, Jr|
|Brannigan, Allen Francis||Oldham, Jesse Zera|
|Brown, Cecil William||Oliva, Armando (NMI)|
|Brown, Jack M||Onstad, William Walter|
|Brown, James Paul||Osepchook, Arthur John|
|Cameron, Robert Allen||Owens, Norris Reece|
|Castiglione, Vincent Joseph||Page, William Marvin|
|Clary, Leonard Estus||Palladino, Joseph Anthony|
|Clymer, Charles Richard||Parsons, Roland Westley|
|Cook, Herbert Arno||Peckerar, Irvin Milton|
|David, Alfred Alme||Perry, Gilbert Franklin|
|Day, Huley Newton||Petrillo, Joseph (NMI)|
|Ecker, John Eric||Pierce, Lee Clifton|
|Edwards, Thomas Joseph, Jr||Pire, Irwin Joseph, Jr|
|Egger, Richard Henry||Plotz, John James|
|Egger, Robert Ross||Rabe, William Arthur, Jr|
|Fallesen, Wayne Peter||Raines, Louis Edward|
|Farrar, George Edwin||Rardon, Edward Perish|
|Farrow, Thomas Chapell||Reed, Clarence Eugene|
|Faust, Glenn Millard||Robinson, Warren Ray|
|Felicetti, Frank Dominick||Romano, Vincent Peter|
|Fiory, William John Joseph||Rood, James Raymond|
|Flaherty, James DeValera||Sack, Ralph William|
|Fooder, Elmer H||Sager, Edwin M|
|Foretich, Gerald Fabian||Santosuosso, John Peter|
|Franzo, Anthony Joseph||Saunders, Paul Ralph|
|Frederickson, Ralph Louis||Schepers, Bob Eugene|
|Friedman, Jack Kenyon||Schick, Frank Joseph, Jr|
|Fulwider, Albert Clayton, Jr||Sexton, William Hiram|
|Gabriel, Daniel (NMI)||Simon, Edward (NMI)|
|Gerhold, Melvin Henry||Smith, Joseph H|
|Gilroy, Robert Peter||Snead, William Austin|
|Girard, Donald Robert||Snyder, Charles Leslie|
|Golka, Larry John||Stanley, James Farrell|
|Gregorich, Vincent (NMI)||Stephenson, Hilton Hubert|
|Gribbons, Warren David||Stevens, Howard Orville|
|Grimes, Robert Albert||Stropek, George Vincent|
|Hale, Kenneth Oliver||Sylvia, Joseph Herbert|
|Hallam, Harley Ross||Taylor, Homer William|
|Hamilton, Harry Tobais||Taylor, William Edson|
|Harbrecht, Robert Francis||Thompson, Raymond Archie|
|Hardman, John Bethany||Thornhill, John G|
|Harrison, Joseph Horatio||Traynor, James Patrick|
|Haverlah, Alton Bernhard||Treat, John Afton|
|Hickey, James Currie||Van Beveren, John Edward|
|Holler, Edward Ralph||Vennel, Alexander Joseph|
|Hopkins, James Russell||Wallo, Andrew (NMI)|
|House, Horace Doster, Jr||Walsh, James Francis|
|Hunt, Walter Francis||Walton, Horace Murphy|
|Jellings, Charles Albert||Wasilewski, Aleck Michael|
|Jones, Leroy Charles||Watson, Paul Leland|
|Kane, Francis P||Way, Arthur Harold|
|Kenedy, John Joseph||Whipple, Charles Thomas|
|Kidwell, Hugh Thomas||Whitney, Stanley Clifford|
|Klonowski, Francis Dominick||Wick, Andrew Oliver|
|Kohl, John Gustave||Wilson, Gerald Eugene|
|Kushner, Jack (NMI)||Wolfe, Clark Benjamin, Jr|
|Larocca, Frank (NMI)||Woodruff, Walker Ace|
|Liniger, Harry Allen||Woods, Harold Leroy|
|Louden, Jack Elmer||Wright, William Clifford|
|Lunceford, John William||Wyatt, Kenneth Ainley|
|MacGregor, Douglas Roy||Younker, John Joseph|
|Madden, Arthur W||Zesch, Charles Emil|
|Mariani, Waldo Frank||Zordel, Wilbur Godfrey|
Thanks, Fred, and thank you to all of the 384th Bomb Group volunteers who research and record, compile, and share information with me and all other 384th Bomb Group researchers. Whether we researchers are historians or family members, we all greatly benefit from the hard work of these few:
Fred Preller, 384thBombGroup.com Webmaster, tries to keep all the pieces of the website working together. Fred’s father Robert H. Preller served as a 546th BS copilot from May to September 1944.
Keith Ellefson, combat data specialist. Keith’s Uncle Raymond O. Wisdahl flew 35 missions with the 384th. Keith has taken a serious interest in data validity and completeness He has been especially involved in the Wing Panel Signing Project.
John Edwards, 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Historian and 384th NEXGEN Research Director. John is an aviation researcher who, thru friendships with 384th Veterans, formed a bond with the 384th family.
Mark Meehl, 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Archivist, is a researcher who specializes in ground personnel, and who also maintains the master log of all combat sorties. Mark’s father Paul E. Meehl served as a 384th ground crew chief from early 1943 thru the end of the war.
Phil Hettel, combat data specialist. Phil’s Uncle Joseph J. Rachunas flew 25 combat missions with the 384th, was shot down and became a POW on his last mission.
Marc Poole, 384thBombGroup.com Webmaster Emeritus, founder of the original 384th website. Marc now serves in an advisory capacity, with occasional forays into research. While a student at Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS, Marc established the website in 1999. He was motivated by the wartime experiences of his uncle, Johnny Butler, who was a 547th Bomb Squadron pilot during Summer 1943. In 2004, Marc turned over operation of the site to current webmaster Fred Preller.
And, yes, I’m one of the research volunteers, too…
Cindy Farrar Bryan, author of this blog, researcher and website analyst. My father George Edwin Farrar, a gunner on the Buslee Crew, was the sole survivor of that crew when they were involved in a mid-air collision on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg, Germany.
All who contribute materials and suggestions – and who report factual errors and website problems. Additional volunteers are always welcome. If you have an interest in helping to preserve the heritage of the 384th, whether you are a computer whiz or not, there are tasks in the (overflowing) Official 384thBombGroup.com Job Jar to suit all capabilities. To inquire about opportunities, e-mail the Webmaster.
The above information was appropriated from Fred Preller’s “About This Site” page on 384thBombgroup.com.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
On September 28, 1944, two B-17 heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force collided after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany.
As I remember the bedtime story Dad told me over and over when I was a child, ground fire hit the ship flying next to his, and that ship, knocked off course, ran into his ship. His ship cracked open like an egg, spilling everyone out. Dad was knocked out in the collision, but as he fell toward earth, he heard his mother call his name. He came around enough to open his chute and lost consciousness again.
The old woman struck him again and again with a stick as Dad woke up on the ground. German soldiers arrived and found him seriously injured, unable to walk. They carried him to a house to await transportation on his journey to confinement as a prisoner of war.
Dad would pause and get very sad as he told me that he was the only one on his plane who survived. When I asked why, he explained that he was the only man wearing his chest chute when the ships collided.
The story continued like it always did. The Germans took Dad to a hospital because he couldn’t walk. Moved by train, the German soldiers were kind to him and allowed him to ride in a bunk in their rail car. After his stay in the hospital, they moved him to a prison camp, where he learned to walk again, able to only shuffle his feet at first. And then came the part of the story that seemed the most significant, the march across Germany and how he slept in barns in the hay at night.
My childhood image was of my father dressed in a crisp uniform and polished shoes marching in columnar formation. I imagined him lounging in a fresh mound of clean hay, trying to avoid the proverbial needle that surely existed in every haystack. I was probably around eight years old and my imagination was highly influenced by a daily dose of Looney Tunes cartoons.
* * * * *
My father, George Edwin Farrar, died in 1982, and over the years I stopped thinking about the stories he told in my childhood of the mid-air collision, the prison camp, and the march. One day, almost thirty years after his death, a cousin e-mailed me a familiar story she had found on the internet. It was told by an eye-witness to the mid-air collision, the co-pilot of another B-17 in the formation. Reading the story brought all the memories flooding back.
The additional discovery of Dad’s record on the 384th Bomb Group’s website triggered my curiosity to learn more. I found that September 28, 1944 was my father’s sixteenth mission as a waist gunner on the John Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group, which was based in Grafton Underwood, England. But most telling was a copy of the missing air crew report attached to Dad’s record.
Through the missing air crew report, I learned that my father was wrong about why his crewmates didn’t survive. He was the only one who made it out of the ship. After the mid-air collision, his B-17 was seen spinning into the clouds on fire, with centrifugal force likely trapping the rest of the crew, who may have also been knocked unconscious. And through a conversation with another eye-witness, I learned the ball turret was knocked from the ship during the collision and plummeted to earth with the belly gunner inside.
Included in the missing air crew report was a statement in handwriting I immediately recognized as my father’s. In his statement he said,
Our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group. The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious and fell about 25,000 feet before I knew I was even out of the ship. Never saw any of the other boys. I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was. Any information you can find out about the boys I would appreciate hearing very much.
He concluded his statement with,
May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.
I pulled out the box of my dad’s WWII mementos that my mother had given me before her death in 2004, and read letter after letter from the families of my dad’s lost crew to my grandmother during 1944 and 1945. While waiting for news about their sons, the mood of the letters evolved from disbelief, to hope, to despair, to sadness. The only joy came in the shared gladness of news of my father’s survival.
The information from the missing air crew report and deep emotion of the letters transformed me and I knew I had to learn more about this shared family tragedy. I began researching my father’s and his crewmates’ WWII history, learned all I could about the Stalag Luft IV prison camp where my father was held, and began reading personal stories of the march.
I learned that as a prisoner of war, Dad spent almost two months in the hospital. Shortly before Thanksgiving 1944, he was transferred to Stalag Luft IV. On February 6, 1945, my father was among the prisoners who marched from Stalag Luft IV. He remained on the road until his liberation at Gudow eighty-six days and five hundred miles later on May 2, 1945.
I started this blog to record the findings of my research. The stories on my blog not only let me record my findings, they lead to connections with relatives of the men my father served with in combat and was held captive with as a POW.
It may have been Dad’s statement, “May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys,” that triggered not just an interest, but an intense desire, to find out for myself what happened in the skies above Magdeburg on September 28, 1944, and to learn more about the families and their sons.
* * * * *
Imagination is a funny thing. It creates a picture in one’s mind based on available information. When new information is added, a new picture emerges, but the old one remains. Version control for the brain, I suppose.
The more I learn, the more the picture changes, but it is only an image conjured by my imagination of the things my father told me and the things I have learned since. I have never seen these places with my physical eyes, only within my mind’s eye.
My image of my father sleeping in the hay in a barn is now of an emaciated man I would not recognize, huddled with other prisoners under thin, dirty blankets. If they slept, they dreamt of home and food, and when they didn’t sleep, they asked God for the strength to walk just one more day.
* * * * *
The next steps in my journey are to visit the airfield in England at which my father was based, to see the crash site in Germany of his B-17 and the remains of the Stalag Luft IV prison camp, walk some of the path of the march, and find the location of his liberation at Gudow.
I need to see the remains of the prison camp where my father stared at fence day after day, learned to walk again at twenty-three years old, and with the lack of food, began the slow progression of starvation that would continue until liberation.
I need to physically see barns where the prisoners rested during the march, and not only view them from the road, but throw open the doors and breathe in the stale and musty smells of the hay. I half expect to awaken the sleeping ghosts of hundreds of starving and exhausted airmen when the daylight strikes the dark recesses of these shelters that housed the marchers from the harshness of the bitterly cold nights of winter 1945.
I need to physically put one foot in front of the other along the road, to scuff up some dirt where dad walked through snow and ice. I need to be in the same physical space he once traveled. I know I will feel him there and connect with him, and I will remember the bedtime stories of my childhood once again.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
In the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between two of the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17s with the Buslee crew (my dad’s crew) aboard 43-37822 and the Brodie crew aboard 42-31222 (aka Lazy Daisy), fourteen airmen died, but four survived. My dad, waist gunner George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, was the only survivor on his fortress. He was seriously injured and required hospitalization for almost two months.
Aboard Lazy Daisy, waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger and tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller survived without serious injury, but navigator George Marshall Hawkins, Jr. sustained extremely serious injuries due to the collision. I don’t intend to cover the extent of Hawkins’ injuries now. At this time, I want to only identify the hospitals at which my dad and Hawkins were treated as POW’s.
During WWII, the following German Lazaretts (Hospitals) held American POWs,
Lazarett IV A Elsterhorst (Hohnstein, Czechoslovakia)
Lazarett IV G (Leipzig, Germany)
Lazarett V B (Rottenmunster, Germany)
Lazarett VI C (Lingen, Germany)
Lazarett VI G (Gerresheim, Germany)
Lazarett VI J (Dusseldorf, Germany)
Lazarett VII A (Freising, Germany)
Lazarett IX B (Bad Soden/Salmunster, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (a) (Obermassfeld, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (b) (Meiningen, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (c) (Hildburghausen, Germany)
Lazarett X A (Schleswig, Germany)
Lazarett X B (Sandbostel, Germany)
Lazarett XIII D (Nurnberg-Langwasser, Germany)
Lazarett XVIII A/Z (Spittal/Drau, Austria)
Marine Lazarett (Cuxhaven, Germany)
Luftwaffen Lazarett 4/11 (Wismar, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett II Vienna (Vienna, Austria)
Reserve Lazarett Graz (Graz, Austria)
Reserve Lazarett Bilin (Bilin, Czechoslovakia)
Reserve Lazarett Wollstein (Wollstein, Poland)
Reserve Lazarett II Stargard (Stargard, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Schmorkau (Schmorkau, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Konigswartha (Konigswartha, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Ebelsbach (Ebelsbach, Germany)
The above list is noted to be as of December 31, 1944 and was found on the website of the National Museum of the US Air Force.
The 384th Bomb Group website notes that George Hawkins was treated at POW Camp: Obermassfeld Hospital #1249 (Serves Stalag 9-C) Obermassfeld Thuringia, Germany. In addition, Hawkins’ WWII records, which I found at the NPRC during a visit to St. Louis for an 8th AF Historical Society reunion noted he was treated at these hospitals:
- A hospital in Magdeburg, Germany for 3 1/2 months (not noted on the above list)
- A hospital in Obermassfeld, Germany for 1 week (according to above list, Lazarett IX C (a))
- A hospital in Meiningen, Germany for 2 3/4 months (according to above list, Lazarett IX C (b))
According to an entry on Wikipedia about Stalag IX C and its associated hospitals, the camp was for Allied soldiers during WWII, rather than airmen. A large hospital, Reserve-Lazaret IX C(a), and a smaller hospital, Reserve-Lazaret IX C(b), were under Stalag IX C administration.
Hawkins spent a week at the large hospital in Obermassfeld, which was a three-story stone building and was operated by British, Canandian, and New Zealand medical staff. But it was the smaller hospital in Meiningen where Hawkins would spend the remainder of his captivity during the war.
I can only guess that my father was taken to the same hospital in Magdeburg where Hawkins was first treated and after two months of treatment was transferred to the Stalag Luft IV prison camp. I don’t believe he would have been transferred to either the hospital in Obermassfeld or Meiningen, but he may have been transferred elsewhere before being placed in the general population of Stalag Luft IV.
My assumption may not be correct, but I do not know of a particular hospital that was associated with Stalag Luft IV. Unlike George Hawkins’ records at the NPRC, my father’s records only consist of recreated documents supplied by my mother after his file at the NPRC was destroyed in the fire of 1973.
Until I learn differently, I will assume that Dad was treated in the same hospital in Magdeburg as George Hawkins, but my percentage of certainty about that is pretty low. If anyone knows of any other resources to help me find information about POW hospitals in Germany, please comment or e-mail me.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
My father, George Edwin Farrar, was a POW in Germany’s Stalag Luft IV in WWII. On February 6, 1945, all of the prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were marched from the prison camp and continued to march out of Poland and through Germany until their liberation.
The prisoners were marched in separate groups, or columns, and didn’t all follow exactly the same route. All were not liberated at the same time or place.
From a letter to his mother, I know my father was liberated on May 2, 1945, after a march of eighty-six days, and was in one of the last columns to be liberated. He did not mention where he was liberated, but at the time he may not have known exactly where in Germany he was. He said,
I guess you have heard through the government that I was liberated. I was liberated by the English May 2nd and have been treated very nice since. I should be home soon, and having some of the nice meals you fix. That I have dreamed of for all-most a year. Life was a bit hard here, but it is all over now. I have been on the road marching since Feb. 6th with very little food, but am not in bad condition.
In his book, The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, POW Joseph P. O’Donnell wrote that on April 30, 1945, the column of prisoners arrived at Zarrentin and spent the night sleeping in the barn of a farm.
The next morning, Day 85 of the march, the farmer slaughtered one of his cows to feed the group, but before the meal could be prepared, the prisoners were ordered to move out.
Late in the morning of May 1, 1945, the column left Zarrentin and arrived at a farm at the outskirts of Gudow late in the afternoon, a walk O’Donnell estimated to be eight kilometers, or about five miles. There, not knowing that liberation would come the next day, the prisoners spent their last night in the farmer’s barn.
On the morning of May 2, 1945, Day 86, the prisoners’ morning started as usual, awakening early, with some prisoners searching the farm for food, eggs that could be eaten raw, or potatoes that could be carried to the next stop. On this day, the Germans distributed canned sardines and commanded the prisoners to pack up and walk to the end of the farm lane to the main road where they would be liberated by the British 8th Army, the Royal Dragoons.
Joe O’Donnell reported that the column was liberated at approximately 11:50 am on May 2, 1945.
The Austrailian War Memorial website contains two photos from the liberation,
From the time my father was born until the day he died, I imagine his walk down a farm lane on the outskirts of Gudow on May 2, 1945 became the sweetest steps of his life, his final walk to liberation and freedom.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
I met Polish sculptor Zygmunt Wujek in July 2017 at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia, near Savannah, during a gathering of descendants of WWII POWs. In the above photo, Zygmunt is pictured at the museum with his American Aviator bronze bust.
The American Aviator is one of more than two hundred works Zygmunt created in his native Pomerania. Among Zygmunt’s many works were monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. To see photos of Stalag Luft IV then and now, including the monuments created by Zygmunt Wujek, please visit this POW site.
The American Aviator bronze bust in the photo…
…is described on the accompanying plaque as …
the only exact copy of the “American Aviator” in the 1992 memorial at Stalag Luft IV, the WWII prison camp for enlisted American airmen in Poland. Wujek used a photograph of Joseph O’Donnell, a POW at Stalag Luft IV, as his model. At the 2006 dedication of the site as a Polish War Memorial, Wujek gave this bust to former POW Walter Grotz. It took Grotz five years to make the necessary import arrangements, and in 2011 he delivered the bust to this museum which will be its permanent home. Wujek presented it on behalf of the people of the Pomerania region of Poland as a Thank You to Eighth Air Force Veterans, all Veterans and the people of the United States.
Note: The POW from whom the American Aviator was modeled, Joseph O’Donnell, was the author of the series of “The Shoe Leather Express” books.
My father, George Edwin Farrar, was one of the American aviators imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV during WWII, and so this particular work of Zygmunt Wujek has special significance to me.
I have not been to the site of Stalag Luft IV to see the remains of the prison camp or the memorial erected there, but seeing and touching this memorial to all the men with whom my dad shared this part of his past sends waves of emotion though me. I am thrilled that we have such a monument on American soil to remind us what these men sacrificed for us so many years ago.
Next year, 2020, will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the march of prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV. Plans are in the works to mark the anniversary at the memorial site and across Germany following part of the path of the march. I know Zygmunt would have taken part, but sadly Zygmunt Wujek died on December 22, 2018.
Zygmunt’s obituary shared the following information:
On Saturday (22 December ), a sad news came. At the age of 80, Zygmunt Wujek, a sculptor from Koszalin, a medalist, painter and draftsman and a social activist died. He became famous as the author of over two hundred monuments, including Jan Stawisiński, Victims of Bolshevism, General Władysław Anders and Martyrdom of the Polish Nation.
Zygmunt was born on September 22, 1938 in Rawicz, Poland. He studied sculpture at the State Higher School of Fine Arts (currently the Academy of Fine Arts) in Poznań. In the capital of Wielkopolska he was a participant in the demonstration of support for the workers’ protest in June 1956. He worked as an instructor at the Youth Culture Center in Poznań, but in 1965 he came to Koszalin. Here he was a teacher at the Technical School of Building, and later a sculpture teacher at the State High School of Fine Arts and a lecturer at the Design Institute of the Koszalin University of Technology. He was an activist of the Union of Polish Visual Artists. Awarded many times, including decorated with the Gold Cross of Merit, the Mater Verbi Medal and the West Pomeranian Griffin.
The news about the artist’s death is a huge loss for the Koszalin culture and a surprise for a group of his friends, because Zygmunt Wujek, who was still active, had many plans for the next year.
A more complete biography is included Zygmunt’s full (translated) obituary here.
But something is missing from this summary of Zygmunt’s life. What formed the man is not the list of his accomplishments, but the impressions that formed in his young mind when he was growing up in Poland.
Zygmunt was born during a terrible time in the world, during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Barely over a month following Zygmunt’s birth, over 15,000 Polish Jews living in Germany were expelled without warning. They were loaded in boxcars and dumped at the Polish border. Weeks later, the Nazis coordinated widespread attacks on Jews throughout Germany in an event call Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.
Shortly before Zygmunt’s first birthday, the Nazis invaded Poland, initiating WWII in Europe. Britain and France demanded Germany withdraw its troops, but instead the Luftwaffe raided Warsaw. In September of 1939, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all declared war on Germany. Before the end of the month, Warsaw surrendered to the Nazis.
In the early years of Zygmunt Wujek’s life, his country was under Nazi occupation. Concentration camps arrived and the extermination of Jews began. Stalag Luft IV opened in May 1944 for the imprisonment of captured allied enlisted airmen.
On January 17, 1945, with Zygmunt only six years old, Soviet troops captured and liberated Warsaw from Nazi control. On the 26th, the Soviets liberated the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. On February 6, with the Russian Army approaching, the POWs of Stalag Luft IV were made to gather their belongings and march from the camp, beginning their eighty-six day odyssey out of Poland and across Germany.
Until VE (Victory in Europe) Day, May 8, 1945, Zygmunt Wujek had known nothing but war in his life, but now at school age, those terrible times would become memories, but memories that would last a lifetime.
It is impossible to think of the memorial at Stalag Luft IV without remembering Zygmunt Wujek. Though he will be greatly missed by family and friends, including the daughters of Stalag Luft IV, his memory will live on through his works of art, and especially for me, his memorial sculpture for the airmen of Stalag Luft IV and the American Aviator.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
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.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019