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Boarding a Train

Harry Allen Liniger, Waist/Flexible Gunner on the James J. Brodie Crew

Harry Allen Liniger, Waist/Flexible Gunner on the James J. Brodie Crew

It is March 28, 1945.  For George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, Wilfred Frank Miller, and the rest of the former prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, it is the fifty-first day of marching.

The prisoners were divided into large groups or “columns”  for the march.  Farrar, Liniger, and Miller may or may not have been part of the same column.  Such records do not exist.  For Farrar and Miller, we are unsure exactly where in the march they were on that day, but we do know where Harry Liniger was.  Harry was boarding a train.

A note Liniger wrote that day on a piece of cigarette rolling paper was recently found tucked into his New Testament by his son, Harry.  Almost 69 years later, it briefly describes that day.

51 day on the road.  Boarded train at 2PM March 28.  Recd [received] 3/8 of a loaf of bread per man.  60 men on a car.

Liniger March Note

Joseph P. O’Donnell, another former prisoner of Stalag Luft IV, describes that day in more detail in his book, The Shoe Leather Express.  O’Donnell writes that they arrived at 3PM and were loaded sixty-five men to each boxcar – boxcars that were designed to hold forty men or eight horses, providing the name “the 40 and 8.”  They were “jammed into the boxcars and the doors were sealed shut.”  O’Donnell continues to describe the scene, explaining that there was not enough room for all of the men to sit down at the same time.  The sick were allowed to lie down and the rest of the men took turns sitting and standing.

The train ride did not turn into a “ride” for a very long time.  The train sat without moving, other than occasional movements back and forth of one hundred to two hundred feet.  The tops of the boxcars were unmarked, making them targets for allied aircraft.  Transportation modes were prime targets of the allies.  O’Donnell considered their “confinement in the boxcars and the intermittent movement of the boxcars as a diabolic and intentional plan by the German commandant to have us destroyed by our own Air Force.”

O’Donnell described conditions in the boxcars as “unbearable”, considering the number of P.O.W.’s with chronic dysentery.  The men were denied water that was available nearby during their torturous wait.  Finally, on March 30, after forty hours of confinement, the train began its journey to Fallingbostel, a thirty mile trip.  The men were never let out of the boxcars until they arrived in Fallingbostel.

From the Fallingbostel train station, the men were marched to Stalag Luft XIB.

Thank you to Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. for sharing his father’s note.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

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High Anxiety

On March 17, 1945, the mother of Robert Sumner Stearns, bombardier for the Buslee crew on September 28, 1944, wrote again to the mother of George Edwin Farrar, waist gunner on the same crew.  Their boys had been involved in a mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana coming off the target at Madgeburg, Germany.  Farrar had been reported captured and a prisoner of war while Stearns had been reported killed.

March 17, 1945
Lapine, Oregon

Dear Mrs. Farrar:

Every day we say “surely it’s time for Mrs. Farrar to have had another letter from her son” so just have to find out. I’m sure the mail is very slow from Germany and possibly there hasn’t been time for another letter, but our anxiety is very great, for word from over there. Every day we read of some boy who is alright whose folks have had no word officially, so surely the ones who have been reported by the Govt (Ger) would be allowed to write regularily.

Have you heard that Lt. Buslee, Sgt. Bryant and Sgt. Andersen have been reported killed, also on Sept. 28th? The report was a month later than ours. We can hardly wait for this awful war to end so that we will know if these reports are true or not.

I hope your son who was in the So. Pacific is well and safe.

Our oldest son is now in Denver training to be a Turret Mechanic and Gunner on a B-29. His wife is there, too, which is a great comfort to both of them. It’s going to be hard for young people to live normal lives afterward if the war lasts much longer.

I’ve written twice to the Exchange Studio in Savannah to get some extra prints of the pictures Bobby had taken before he went across. When they come I’d like to exchange with you for a picture of your son so can have a crew group for our scrapbook. If they ever had a picture of their new crew I never heard of it and we’d so much like to have pictures of all the boys.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Stearns

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Camp Movements

The February 1945 issue of the Prisoners of War Bulletin reported movement of prisoners from the prison camps.  In reference to Stalag Luft IV, where George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, and Wilfred Frank Miller were held, the bulletin reported:

Grosstychow, in Pomerania, where Stalag Luft IV with its large complement of British and American airmen was located, was close to the combat zone in late January.

The March issue offered more information on the movement of prisoners.  Here are a few excerpts from a section named Camp Movements on the back page of the bulletin with references to Stalag Luft IV:

A cable from the American Red Cross Representative at Geneva in the middle of February referred to “the great mass movement of prisoners now marching on foot westward…”

On February 13, the War Department and the Department of State jointly announced that official information had been received with respect to the evacuation westward of American prisoners of war formerly detained in camps in eastern Germany.  This announcement stated:

“All the camps in East Prussia, Poland, and that part of Pomerania east of the Oder River are being moved westward.  This includes among others Stalag Luft IV…”

“Information concerning the relocation of prisoner of war camps is constantly being received.  This information will be made public as soon as it is possible to confirm these relocations.  Pending a notification through the usual official sources, next of kin are urged to continue to address communications to individual prisoners of war to their last known address.”

Article 7 of the Geneva Convention of 1929 Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War states:

“…Evacuation of prisoners on foot may normally be effected only by stages of 20 kilometers [12 1/2 miles] a day, unless the necessity of reaching water and food depots requires longer stages.”

The latest information on camp movements is given on page 4.

Page 4 of the bulletin offered an additional section named Latest Information on Camp Movements (By cable from Geneva).  Here are a few excerpts from this section:

Approximately 53 percent of all American prisoners of war in Germany, late in February, were moving westward – mainly on foot.  The total number of American, Belgian, British, French, Norwegian, Polish, and Yugoslav prisoners evacuated from camps in eastern Germany and Poland exceeded 300,000.

Prisoners from …Stalag Luft IV… were grouped near Stettin.

Large stores of Red Cross supplies had to be left behind when the principal American camps were evacuated.  The latest cables from Geneva emplasized that much hardship is being suffered by the evacuated prisoners, and even more by German civilian refugees.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014