Category Archives: The Black March
I have previously written about my dad’s time as a POW during WWII, both during his confinement in Stalag Luft IV and during his 86-day march across Poland and Germany to his liberation. The 500-plus mile march started on February 6, 1945, and for my dad, George Edwin Farrar, ended on May 2, 1945.
On the morning of May 2, 1945, Day 86 of the march, 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, shortly before noon.
The 76th anniversary of Dad’s liberation day will be this coming Sunday and this year I have a piece of history to hold in my hand as I reflect on this day and what his liberation and freedom meant to my father those many years ago.
Dad kept this WWII German Air Force (Luftwaffe) officer’s peak cap as a souvenir of his experience as a POW during the war. I don’t recall him ever showing it to me or telling me about it.
It wasn’t until my sister and I were cleaning out my mother’s attic after her death in 2004 (Dad had died in 1982) that we found it in a footlocker with a few other items from his military service. My sister kept those things when we divided up the family heirlooms and I forgot about them over the years.
My sister recently reminded me she had these things of dad’s from the war and offered them to me to add to my collection of his WWII memorabilia. I am sure I know how my dad came to be in possession of this Nazi military cap. Once the prisoners were liberated and realized they would soon be going home, they all collected some souvenirs to bring home with them.
In the Shoe Leather Express, author and former POW Joseph O’Donnell wrote, that his first souvenirs were a “military map of Germany and a German canteen and kit.” He noted that “other G.I.’s were gathering souvenirs such as swords, bayonets, and guns.”
A Luftwaffe officer’s cap must have seemed a fitting symbol, a victory prize, for an enlisted serviceman of the American Army Air Forces in the Allies’ defeat over Nazi Germany on the day of his liberation. But it was never something he showed off with pride or even shared the existence of when he told his stories of the mid-air collision, of being a POW, or enduring the forced march. Like many of his memories of that tragic time in his life and our country’s history, it remained buried and not spoken of until long after his death.
Previous Post: Liberation Gudow
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
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
On Sunday, June 2, 2019, the children of the waist gunners of both ships involved in the 384th Bomb Group’s mid-air collision of September 28, 1944 over Magdeburg, Germany met for the first time.
That’s me, Cindy Farrar Bryan, daughter of George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, on the left and Harry Liniger, Jr., son of Harry Allen Liniger, Sr. of the Brodie crew, on the right. Harry is pointing to his dad’s name on a plaque in the garden of the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA. The plaque is dedicated to the James Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group.
On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, the Buslee crew’s 43-37822 and the Brodie crew’s 42-31222 (also known as “Lazy Daisy.”)
The only survivors of the Brodie crew were navigator George Hawkins, tail gunner Wilfred Miller, and waist gunner Harry Liniger.
The front section of the nose of the Brodie crew’s “Lazy Daisy” was carried away, and with it, the togglier. Hawkins managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun. Waist gunner Harry Liniger was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. The explosion also severed the tail of the ship and tail gunner Wilfred Miller rode the tail assembly down and later chuted from the tail section.
The only survivor of the Buslee crew was waist gunner George Edwin Farrar, my dad. He believed that the other ship must have hit right in the center of their ship, as they were knocked half in-to. At the time they were struck, Dad was knocked unconscious and fell about 25,000 feet, before he knew he was even out of the ship.
Both Liniger and Farrar (and also Miller) were confined as POWs in Stalag Luft IV and survived the 500-mile, 86-day Black March across Germany to their liberation in May 1945. Hawkins was so severely injured in the collision that he was confined to the hospital during the whole of his time as a prisoner of war.
Now that Harry and I have finally met, we’d like one day to meet the children of George Hawkins and Wilfred Miller, the only other survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision over Magdeburg. To those children, if you feel the same, please contact 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
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
First, a recap…
In August, I wrote about an aspect of the WWII Black March of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV, the Combine. My father, George Edwin Farrar, who was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England, was one of the prisoners on the March. Dad’s B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was placed in Stalag Luft IV around Thanksgiving.
I have found that when the prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were marched out of the prison camp on February 6, 1945, Dad, RAF airman Laurie Newbold, and 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil McWhorter likely made up a three-man combine. I learned of these men through a letter Laurie Newbold sent Dad on July 15, 1946.
I wanted to know more about the two men my dad spent his darkest days with in the prison camp and on the March. I have already researched and written about the man I learned was “Old Mac Whorter.” He was Cecil Carlton McWhorter and you can read more about him in these previous posts, Cecil Carlton McWhorter –
…End of recap
My search for Laurie Newbold began with his letter. I had his address, 6 Forest View Cottages, Belton, NR Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. Belton is a parish, or small village, in the district of North West Leicestershire in England. A Google Maps search today does not find “6 Forest View Cottages” in Belton.
I learned a few other things from the letter. Laurie was married and his wife’s father ran the local pub. Laurie had one son before his war service. And after he returned home from the war, he had a second son.
In an internet search, I recently found a pub in Belton called “The Queen’s Head Pub.”
The Queen’s Head Pub in Belton, Leicestershire has been a village pub for over 200 years. The building is a historic coaching inn which was built in the 1700’s. It has been a pub since 1800. Now it is a restaurant with a bar and accommodations. The Queen’s Head is situated in the center of the village facing the square. The pub is located at 2 Long Street, Belton, Loughborough, LE12 9TP.
I e-mailed the pub and quickly received a response from Jo Newby, General Manager of the Queen’s Head. Jo did some checking and discovered that I had the correct Belton, England (there are two), but possibly not the right pub. Jo said that there were once two pubs in Belton. The other, the George Hotel, is no longer there, but she thinks it was the George which Laurie Newbold’s father-in-law ran.
Jo found a few folks who remember Lawrence (Laurie) Newbold. A couple of Jo Newby’s regulars at the Queen’s Head, Barry and Mary-Jean, know a lot about Laurie. He was Mary-Jean’s uncle and they lived next door to him. Laurie Newbold had three children, Michael, Stephen, and Janice. Laurie has passed away and so have Michael and Janice. But Stephen is still alive and lives in the adjacent village of Long Whatton.
Jo found an interesting photo hanging on a wall of the Queen’s Head Pub. It is a picture of Laurie Newbold and the Long Whatton and Belton Home Guard. In the photo, Laurie Newbold is standing second from left in the second from top row. I have circled him in the photo.
More internet searches revealed that L.E. (Laurie) Newbold was a Sergeant in the RAF, in the No. 50 Squadron of Bomber Command. He became a POW on March 18, 1944 when his Avro Lancaster #ED-308 went down on a mission to Frankfurt.
The No. 50 Squadron flew out of RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincoln, England, from November 26,1941 to June 20, 1942 and October 17, 1942 to June 15, 1945. Skellingthorpe was about seventy miles north of Grafton Underwood (where my dad was stationed) and Polebrook (where Cecil McWhorter was stationed).
The Back to Normandy website has a photo of ED-308 and some information about the March 18/19 mission. The site’s publisher, Fred Vogels, wrote,
On Saturday, 18 March 1944, (a part of) the aircraft of the 50 squadron (RAF), took off for a mission to Frankfurt in Germany from a station (airfield) in or near Skellingthorpe.
One of the crew members was Flight Sergeant H J Rouse. He departed for his mission at 19:15.
He flew with a Avro Lancaster (type I, with serial ED308 and code VN-J). His mission and of the other crew members was planned for Sunday, 19 March 1944.
I found a list of the crew aboard ED-308 on March 18, 1944 on the UK’s National Archives website. Once the page opens, scroll down and click Preview an image of this record. Select Image 12 and then go to full screen. About halfway down the page, you will see 18/19 March 1944 in the left column. Zooming in helps immensely. You can view the crew listing and comments even though viewing is obstructed by a water mark. The pilot’s last name is Miller, and fourth line down on Miller’s crew is Sgt. L.E. Newbold.
The Sortie notes state: Bombing Attack on Frankfurt. Aircraft Missing – no signal received.
I’m happy to have learned more about Laurie Newbold and have a photo of him thanks to Jo Newby. Perhaps someday Stephen Newbold and I will be able to meet face to face. I think that if I can look directly into his eyes, I will be able to see the ghost of his father and he will be able to see the ghost of mine, how they appeared seventy-four years ago when they helped each other survive what was probably the most fearful time in their lives, and watched each other waste away from lack of food, illness, and other hardships of marching across Germany, not knowing if they would live to ever see their families again. Stephen Newbold, this is our shared history. The history of our fathers, two survivors of WWII.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
Cecil Carlton McWhorter, continued..
In my search for Cecil Carlton McWhorter and descendants, I also turned to Ancestry.com for personal information.
Cecil was born in Olney, Texas on March 4, 1918. His birth year explains why Laurie Newbold considered Cecil McWhorter “old.” Cecil would have been twenty-seven years old in 1945. Most of the men who made up WWII air crews were in their late teens and early twenties.
In 1930, the United States Census reported that the McWhorter family lived in Throckmorton County, Texas. Cecil’s father was Isaac McWhorter, 51 years old, and was a farmer. Isaac was born in Kentucky as was his father. Isaac’s mother was born in Tennessee. Cecil’s mother was Susan Cloyd McWhorter. She was born in Kentucky as was her mother. Her father was born in Tennessee. Susan was 41 years old in 1930. She and Isaac had been married for 23 years.
Isaac and Susan McWhorter had 5 children living at home in 1930. Albert was 20, Cecil was 12, Martha Dee was 10, Louis Winston was 6, and Eldon Cloyd was 2 1/2. They also had an older daughter, Francis, who was 22 and no longer living at home.
Shortly before being shipped overseas, on May 6, 1944, at age 26, Cecil Carlton McWhorter married Martha Elizabeth Rohner in Highlands County, Florida. At the time, he listed his address as the 399th Bomb Squadron of the 88th Bomb Group, stationed at Avon Park Army Air Field. He listed his occupation as S/Sgt., U.S. Army. Martha’s age was listed as 27, birthplace East Bernstadt, Kentucky.
Oddly, it was Cecil’s marriage license that revealed how and where Cecil served in WWII before he was assigned to the 351st Bomb Group. The 88th Bomb Group was a training unit that was part of the 2nd and 3rd Air Forces and was based in Avon Park, Florida. It was inactivated on May 1, 1944, just five days before Cecil married Martha. They must have married knowing Cecil would soon be going overseas, leaving Martha behind. She must have worried greatly about her new husband when he was first declared missing in action and then prisoner of war.
Between 1956 and 1958, Cecil and Martha must have divorced. They are listed as husband and wife in the 1956 Louisville, Kentucky city directory. Cecil worked in the lab at Ford Motors and they lived at 1353 Lillian. In the 1958 directory, Cecil’s wife is listed as Ethel L., and the couple lived at 1207 West Market. Cecil was employed as a Trimmer for Ford Motors. Cecil must have been 39 or 40 years old when he remarried in 1957 or 1958.
Cecil Carlton McWhorter died on February 10, 1965 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky at age 46 of pancreatic cancer, of which he had been suffering for ten months. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as Assembler for the Ford Motor Company. His wife was listed as Mrs. Ethel McWhorter. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.
Cecil’s first wife, Martha Rohner, died March 21, 2010 in Louisville at the age of 93. The last name “McWhorter” was not included in her obituary title, leading me to believe that she and Cecil had indeed divorced. However, there was mention that she was preceded in death by her husband, Cecil [McWhorter]. Survivors listed in her obituary included nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, but no children.
I cannot find an obituary, death record, or current address listing for Cecil’s second wife, Ethel L. McWhorter. An obituary usually reveals whether a person had any children or not. Cecil and Martha apparently didn’t have children, but I don’t know if he and Ethel did. They were married for seven or eight years before he died, so could have.
When I visited the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) in St. Louis, Missouri, I reviewed Cecil McWhorter’s military record. Unfortunately, Cecil’s record was destroyed in the fire of 1973, or at least most of his record. The only document it contained was Cecil’s Final Payment Roll dated August 25, 1945.
As far as I know, on Black March Liberation Day, May 2, 1945, Dad, Laurie Newbold, and Cecil McWhorter finished their march across Germany together. The column of prisoners of which these three were a combine had been on the road marching since February 6, eighty-six days and five hundred miles. They endured so much together, but I don’t believe that they ever saw each other again for the remainder of their lives. I would like to find their children to share the knowledge of the bond our fathers had almost seventy-five years ago with the next generation.
If you are a relative of 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil C. McWhorter or RAF airman Laurie Newbold, please Contact Me.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
Cecil Carlton McWhorter, continued…
On his final mission, Cecil McWhorter was left waist gunner on the Charles E. Cregar, Jr. crew of the 511th Bomb Squadron of the 351st Bomb Group on the October 3, 1944 Mission #213 to the Nuremburg Railroad Marshaling Yards. They were aboard B-17G 43-38518, which was a new ship assigned to the 511st Bomb Squad/351st Bomb Group less than two weeks before on September 21 according to Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log. Cecil was on his twelfth mission with the 351st.
On October 3, 1944 the Cregar crew consisted of:
- Pilot, 1st Lt Charles E. Cregar, Jr., SN O-1043908
- Co-pilot, 2nd Lt Sanford N. Groendyke, SN O-819086
- Navigator, F/O James D. Timmie, SN T-124869
- Bombardier, 1st Lt John F. Dwyer, SN O-1283565
- Top Turret Gunner/Engineer, T/Sgt Edward L. Huth, SN 32447653
- Radio Operator, S/Sgt Elwood A. (Ziggy) Zigenfus, Jr., SN 13152369
- Left Waist Gunner, S/Sgt Cecil C. McWhorter, SN 6285927
- Ball Turret Gunner, S/Sgt Charles E. Weller, SN 35263548
- Tail Gunner, S/Sgt Thomas W. Richardson, SN 15195066
All on board were taken prisoner of war with the exception of bombardier John F. Dwyer, who lost his life on that mission.
The details of MIssing Air Crew Report 9358 (MACR9358) explain what happened on October 3, 1944 to the Cregar crew.
According to witnesses from other aircraft in the formation, the Cregar crew’s 43-38518 left the formation at 1150 hours under control for causes unknown. Pilot Donald Hadley noticed that Lt. Cregar’s plane failed to turn with the formation coming off the target. Hadley reported no visible signs of damage and all four engines turning. There were no fighters in the area, but there was moderate flak. Cregar never caught up with the formation and descended under control out of sight. Hadley saw no parachutes and heard no radio call from 43-38518.
Another witness, tail gunner Jack Tucker, reported much the same as Donald Hadley, adding that as the plane left the formation, it began to lose altitude and traveled in an easterly direction. He saw nothing to indicate that Cregar’s plane was damaged and the last he saw of them, they were flying at about 8500 feet (descending from their flying altitude of 25,500 feet).
Either Hadley or Tucker later added that thirty minutes after the aircraft left the formation, the pilot was heard to call for fighter support over VHF.
According to Individual Casualty Questionnaires included within the Missing Air Crew Report, just after Bombardier John Dwyer released the bombs and was observing the results, he was hit by flak and killed. One of the responders to the questionnaire (probably the navigator James Timmie, who would have been in the nose of the B-17 with Dwyer) reported,
The first shell burst about ten feet in front of the nose slightly to the right. A small fragment entered his head thru his steel helmet, earphone, and skull and started profuse bleeding. I administered firstaid to no avail and in a few minutes he was dead. His body was left with the plane, which did not burn, when last seen.
The pilot left formation in an attempt to fly the badly damaged ship to Switzerland.
The radio operator, Elwood Zigenfus, and tail gunner, Thomas Richardson, both reported that the pilot and co-pilot remained at the controls while the rest of the crew, with the exception of bombardier John Dwyer who was dead in the nose of the ship, assumed ditching positions in the radio room.
None of the men bailed out of the ship, but instead rode it down to a crash landing. The men reported that the ship struck the ground using various landmarks:
- At Stellman (300 m west) 12 km west of Donauwoerth at 1230 hours
- 10 miles south of Ulm
- Near Dilligen, Germany
- Near Elms, Germany
- At the small village of Stattinham
Bombardier John F. Dwyer (born September 10, 1918) was found dead in the aircraft after the emergency landing. His date and place of death were listed as October 3, 1944 in Stillnau at Leipheim/Donau. His initial date and place of interment were October 7, 1944 at Leipheim/Donau town cemetery.
One of the crew said that the German guards reported that Dwyer was given a military funeral near where the ship went down, a small town named Dillingen. According to Findagrave.com, Dwyer was later re-interred at Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial at Saint-Avold, Department de la Moselle, Lorraine, France.
The pilot, Charles Cregar, summarized with:
The target was RR Yards in Marsburg. They were at the target at 11:55 a.m. at an altitude of 26,000 feet. They left the formation at the first turn off the target. He didn’t bail out nor did any of the other members of the crew. He wrote:
All members of crew remained in the plane until we crash landed. One member was killed by the flak burst which knocked out our four engines. All other members uninjured then or in the crash landing that followed.
A German interrogator informed me voluntarily that Lt. Dwyer had been buried in Leipheim, “with full military honors just as if he had been a German officer.”
On pilot Charles Cregar’s page on the American Air Museum in Britain website, his son wrote about memories of his dad, in part,
Dad would never discuss the war, Mom said it brought up terrible memories. He regretted the death of his one crew member, and never discussed POW with anyone…Dad had fun, enjoyed friends including Ernie Kovacs (TV comedian), who was a childhood friend and Ziggy (from the flight crew). Never would eat potato soup or cabbage, apparently a POW thing.
Bombardier John Dwyer’s page includes a photo and notes,
Killed in Action (KIA) Crashed near Stellnau in B-17 4338518.
Lt. Dwyer was a member of the International Guards before Pearl Harbor and first served with the Infantry, then being transferred to the air corps. He received his training at Santa Anna, Cal., Las Vegas, Nev., Carlsbad, NM, and Avon Park, Fla.
He was overseas from July 1944, and had completed twelve missions. Lt. Dwyer received the Presidential Group Citation and a posthumous Purple Heart.
Tail gunner Thomas Richardson’s page includes a photo,
Pages for the remainder of the crew, including Cecil McWhorter, do not include any additional information or photos.
Thank you to 384th Bomb Group researcher Keith Ellefson for getting me a copy of Missing Air Crew Report 9358.
If you are a relative of 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil C. McWhorter, or others on the Charles Cregar crew, or RAF airman Laurie Newbold, please Contact Me.
To be continued…
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018