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Imagine

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

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Liberation Gudow

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,

GUDOW, GERMANY. 1945-05. POW AMERICAN AIRMEN SHOWING THEIR EXCITEMENT AT BEING LIBERATED BY MEN OF THE REGIMENT OF ROYAL DRAGOONS. (BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH, BU5038).
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

and

GUDOW, GERMANY. 1945-05-02. AMERICAN PRISONERS FLOCK BACK ALONG THE ROAD TO FREEDOM AFTER BEING LIBERATED BY TROOPS OF THE BRITISH FIFTH DIVISION. (BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH, BU5046).
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

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

The Shoe Leather Express

Seventy-four years ago, near the end of WWII, with Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet Red Army advancing from the east, the Nazis began a series of forced marches of prisoners out of their prisoner of war camps. There is no definitive answer as to why the prisoners were marched from the camps or what the Nazis planned for them in the end. One theory is that the prisoners were marched out of the camps simply to delay their liberation.

By the end of January 1945, the plan to march allied prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV and away from liberation by the Soviet Red Army was ready to begin. The winter of 1945 was one of Germany’s coldest on record with blizzard conditions. The prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, the POW camp in which Dad was held prisoner, were ill-equipped for a march in such weather. They had been underfed and were not clothed properly for the conditions.

On February 6, 1945 the march out of Stalag Luft IV began. With just a few hours notice to prepare to march out of the camp, the prisoners scrambled to gather what they could.

The prisoners did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road. The march out of Stalag Luft IV has been given many names – the Death March, the Black March, and even the Shoe Leather Express. Most of those that survived just called it “The March”. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, usually called it the “Forced March” when he told me stories of sleeping in the hay and stealing a chicken for food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

Candy Kyler Brown’s website, Remember History

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

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

A Black March Combine

I have previously written several articles about the WWII Black March, the march of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV across Germany in the winter of 1945. Today, I want to explain a very important aspect of that march, the Combine.

But first, as a refresher to the Black March itself, please refer to this previous post. It is the proclamation entered into the Congressional Record on May 8, 1995 by WWII veteran, Congressman John William Warner.

Congressman Warner was approached by three WWII veterans who were on the march and who brought this piece of WWII history to his attention – Cpl. Bob McVicker of Alexandria, Virginia; S. Sgt. Ralph Pippens of Alexandria, Louisiana; and Sgt. Arthur Duchesneau of Daytona Beach, Florida. Rep. Warner wanted to tell their story and raise awareness of what the Stalag Luft IV prisoners endured on this little-known march in pursuit of freedom.

The proclamation explains that McVicker, Pippens, and Duchesneau each survived, “mostly because of the efforts of the other two – American crewmates compassionately and selflessly helping buddies in need.” This statement is the definition of a Black March “Combine.”

In WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England. His B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was put in Stalag Luft IV. On February 6, 1945, he was one of the prisoners from Stalag Luft IV who were marched out of the camp in several columns accompanied by German guards armed with rifles, and guard dogs. For Dad, the Black March lasted the full eighty-six days, covering approximately five-hundred miles.

From an old letter, I determined that the two men closest to my dad in the prison camp and on the Black March were the author of the letter, British airman Laurie Newbold, and American airman Cecil McWhorter.

Newbold’s letter adds much to what I know about who shared my father’s WWII experiences, especially these two sentences.

Have you ever come across any more of Room 12. Old Mac Whorter lives down south at East Bernstadt, N London, Kentucky but I forgot that your states are as big as England.

In my research of my father during WWII, it is not enough to know who the members of my father’s air crew were. Although Dad’s WWII experience was shared with the other men of the John Buslee crew, 544th Bomb Squad, and the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, he had a connection that went beyond the usual military camaraderie of an air crew. He had a connection with two men with whom he had not served in the 384th, Laurie Newbold and Cecil McWhorter, on whom his life depended in that eighty-six day span of time he called “The March.”

Joseph O’Donnell, another Stalag Luft IV prisoner on the Black March, wrote a book about the march. In The Shoe Leather Express, O’Donnell explains how the prisoners joined forces in small groups in order to help each other survive. These small groups of two to four Kriegies (short for Kriegesgefangenen, which is the German word for prisoner of war) were created out of necessity, for survival. Joe wrote:

A combine usually consisted of three Kriegies, sometimes two, sometimes four, but the most logical number combination was three. Further explanation will confirm the logic of three men versus two or four men. Of all the reasons for a three man combine, there is no one reason to justify this combination, there are many reasons. As stated before, we each had two blankets, and with a combination of three Kriegies this gave us six blankets. After our arrival at a barn we would stake a claim to an area in the barn according to our arrival. First-in claimed the advantageous areas, usually near an exit.

Since we shared our food, it was imperative that we should stick together; but we usually marched in columns of fours and it always presented a problem at the end of a [day’s] march, when the guards would count off 150 or 200 Kriegies for one barn. This would usually split a combine. One hell of a lot of shuffling went on to get the combine together again. When trading, bartering or stealing detail; the other two would construct our bed of straw for the night. Our bed of straw was covered with the three German blankets, two lengthwise and one across the bottom and tucked in. The three GI blankets would cover us along with our GI overcoats.

The mention of trading, bartering, and stealing references the fact that the men had very little food and clean water on the road. They often attempted to supplement their meager rations by trading items like the watch my father traded for a loaf of bread, or stealing potatoes or chickens from the farmers in whose barns they slept.

The combines walked together, all day, every day, sometimes as far as twenty miles in one day. They shared food and ate together. They slept together and shared body heat in the unheated barns and under the stars in the sub-freezing temperatures of the winter of 1945. When one felt weak, the others helped him put one foot in front of the other, to take one more step, to keep up with the column. Falling behind the group meant the risk of being shot and left for dead beside the road as the group trudged forward. The combine gave the men someone to lean on in more ways than one.

How many men died on the march is not known. It is truly a miracle that any of them survived. They were covered in lice, were afflicted with dysentery and other diseases, and were close to the point of starvation. They have been described as walking skeletons. Thoughts of home and the support of each other must have kept them going.

But when it was all over, when Liberation Day came, the combines were split apart for good. Each man went his separate way, returning to his country and his family, to pick up with life as though his eighty-six day struggle for survival was all a bad dream. Laurie Newbold wrote:

I never saw you again after the day we were liberated. I understand that nearly all your boys stopped the first night at Boizenburg but most of the RAF went straight on to Luneburg & I got there that night. From there I went to Emsdetten near Holland & then flew to England in a Lanc [possible abbreviation for Lancaster bomber].

Well George I expect I could write all night about the past but most of that’s best forgotten, don’t you think.

Is the past and that piece of history best forgotten? When I read pages from Joe O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express and read Laurie Newbold’s letter, their words trouble me. They unsettle me. It disturbs me deeply to know these things that my father endured. Things that he himself could not or would not tell me. I understand, at least I think I do, why he wouldn’t divulge these things. I was too young. I was too innocent. He did not want to burden me or anyone else with this horrible knowledge.

My father was right in not telling me. I should not know these things because as I’ve learned, now that I know them, I cannot un-know them. They rattle around in my head and pop to the surface at unexpected moments. These things that were a part of him, they are now a part of me. Not to the extent they were for him, of course, because he actually lived them and I only learned them. I cannot imagine the way the horrific memories crashed upon his shore of existence every single moment of every single day of the remainder of his life.

These are things that no being should ever have to endure. But at that time in history there were people who looked much like the rest of us, who underneath that layer of human-like skin were not human at all, but monsters.

When I was young, monsters lived under my bed and in my closet. I had to take a long-jump into and out of bed so the monster wouldn’t grab my feet and pull me under into a certain horrible death. I had to jump back when I opened the closet door so the monster inside couldn’t grab me and drag me in.

My monsters vanished over time. They probably tired of not being able to catch me and moved on to the bed and closet of another child. But my father’s monsters never left. He died thirty-seven years after his time in the prison camp and Black March were over. Dying was the only way to end the war for him and banish his monsters.

Notes

Joe O’Donnell inadvertently used the word “concubine” to define the groups of marching prisoners in the text of The Shoe Leather Express rather than the word “combine.” I have published Joe’s passages substituting the word “combine,” which Joe points out in a correction at the top of the Table of Contents page. He states:  “CORRECTION. The word ‘concubine’ was misused, it should be ‘combine.’

The Preface and first two chapters of Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express may be read courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

To be continued with more information about Cecil McWhorter and Laurie Newbold and my search for their relatives…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Rendezvous in Savannah

The March 2017 issue of the 8th AF News contains a wonderful story, “Band of Daughters.” The story is about two women, Ellen Hartman and Laura Edge, and their adventure together to visit the WWII prison camp, Stalag Luft IV, where their fathers and my father, were held as prisoners of war. You can read the story here.

Laura holds a Masters of Social Studies Education degree and wrote the book “On the Wings of Dawn:  American Airmen as Germany’s Prisoners – Their Story of Courage, Sacrifice, and Survival.” Ellen owns her own public relations agency in Atlanta and is just beginning to research her father’s service in WWII. You can read the post I wrote about Ellen’s father, Joe Weaver, here.

I contacted both Ellen and Laura and learned that they had big plans for this year’s Fourth of July weekend in Savannah. They would be visiting the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Joining them would be Zygmunt Wujek, a Polish sculptor, and Jupi Podlaszewski, head of the English School of Koszalin. Zygmunt created the memorial sculpture at the site of Stalag Luft IV.

Zygmunt Wujek has created more than two hundred memorials in his native Pomerania including monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. Zygmunt also created a bronze bust of an American airman from a photograph of Stalag Luft IV POW Joseph O’Donnell, author of the book “The Shoe Leather Express.”

Also joining the group as the third Stalag Luft IV daughter would be Candy Kyler Brown. Candy wrote the book “What I Never Told You:  A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father.”

A WWII veteran of the 8th Air Force, Walter Grotz, was to join the group. Walter, of the 445th Bomb Group and his wife, Mary, sponsored the Polish dignitaries’ journey to the US. Walter and Mary had a B-24 propeller blade to donate to the museum and wanted Zygmunt to see his American Airman’s home in the museum. Walter became a prisoner at Stalag Luft IV when he had to bail out of his B-24 on the November 26, 1944 mission to an oil refinery at Hannover, Germany. Sadly, Walter Grotz died in May, but his wife, Mary, carried on Walter’s wishes and joined the group in Savannah.

Walter’s B-24 Propeller Blade

Zygmunt Wujek’s bronze bust of the American Airman in the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

The American Aviator bronze bust (as described in the accompanying plaque) …

is 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.

Zygmunt Wujek and Mary Grotz admire Zygmunt’s work.

The organizer of the Savannah group, Ellen Hartman, was kind enough to invite me at join them as the fourth Stalag Luft IV daughter. And I, knowing that a WWII veteran living near me, John DeFrancesco, had a great desire to see the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, invited him to go to Savannah with me. John had been a POW in WWII, but not in Stalag Luft IV.

John was a pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron, the same group and squadron in which my dad served. John was on his thirty-fifth mission on January 8, 1945 to a railroad line in Kyllburg, Germany when two of his engines exploded and his B-17 caught fire. After bailing out of the crippled aircraft, John was a POW at Stalag 13D Nuremburg (Oflag 73) Bavaria, an officers’ camp, and later after a forced march, was held at Stalag 7A (Moosburg).

John DeFrancesco standing in front of the B-17 “City of Savannah” at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

Our experience at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force was extraordinary. In addition to touring the museum on our own (we took advantage of every free moment in our schedule to see as much as we could), we had two excellent guided tours.

Our first tour was led by 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Historian and NexGen Research Director John Edwards. John was one of the original nine who started the Museum of the Mighty Eighth. Between John’s history with the museum and his interest in aviation research, John’s tour offered our group a unique insight to the museum and the WWII history of the 8th Air Force.

Left to right: Zygmunt Wujek, Mary Grotz, Jupi Podlaszewski, and John DeFrancesco enjoy John Edward’s tour of the museum

Our second tour was led by Al Pela, museum docent and son of Stalag Luft IV POW Albert Pela who was a flexible gunner with the 100th Bomb Group, also known as “The Bloody Hundreth.” Albert’s B-17 crashed at Gottesgab (now Bozi Dar, Czech Republic) on September 11, 1944. Al’s stories of his father’s experiences at Stalag Luft IV added another perspective to our museum experience.

Al Pela’s tour included the personal POW history of his father in front of the museum’s POW barracks display

Just past the POW exhibit in the museum is a display case in which the vest that Candy Kyler Brown’s father, John Roland Kyler, made while he was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft IV. Candy proudly shows her father’s work to the group. Kyler knitted the vest from a Red Cross-provided kit and he was able to bring it home on his trek across Germany in the Black March.

The museum is full of wonderful displays. John DeFrancesco stands in front of a memorial to the 384th Bomb Group complete with a model of a B-17.

Past a set of glass doors at the back of the large space housing the B-17 and other aircraft is the museum’s memorial garden. The garden is a beautiful, peaceful place full of memorials to groups and members of the 8th Air Force and the Chapel of the Fallen Eagles.

Inside the chapel are a multitude of stained glass windows…

… including a replica of the one honoring the 384th Bomb Group in the Church of St James the Apostle in Grafton Underwood, England.

John DeFrancesco stands in front of a replica of the 384th Bomb Group Memorial in Grafton Underwood, England, where the group was stationed during WWII.

After some help from Al Pela, I was able to find the memorial to the Brodie crew of the B-17 Lazy Daisy which collided with the B-17 Lead Banana on which my dad was the waist gunner on September 28, 1944.

To end this wonderful weekend, our group was honored at the American Legion Post 135 which is housed at 1108 Bull Street in Savannah, where on January 28, 1942, the Eighth Air Force was activated.

John DeFrancesco receiving a Certificate of Honor from American Legion Post 135 in Savannah

In addition to honoring the WWII veteran of our group, John DeFrancesco, the American Legion also honored Zygmunt Wujek, Walter Grotz, and each of the Stalag Luft IV daughters’ fathers.

Following the ceremony at the American Legion, our group enjoyed a spectacular dinner right next door at the restaurant Local11ten. It was the perfect ending to the perfect adventure for this group which was brought together because of a shared history in WWII. That adventure ended, but I suspect a new journey is just beginning.

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV with WWII veteran John DeFrancesco.
Left to right: Cindy Farrar Bryan, Laura Witt Edge, John Joseph DeFrancesco, Candy Kyler Brown, and Ellen Weaver Hartman

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Joseph Donald Weaver

Joseph Donald Weaver, 9th AF, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad

I don’t know how many of you are members of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, but I am a member and receive their 8th AF News magazine. I was intrigued by the cover of the March 2017 issue I received in the mail. The cover photo was a woman named Ellen Weaver Hartman holding dog tags and surrounded by photos and other items. The item that caught my eye was a small piece of wood inscribed with “Stalag Luft IV 1944.” Stalag Luft IV was the prison camp in which my dad was held POW in 1944 and 1945.

I quickly turned to the article, “Band of Daughters.” It was a reprint of an article by Josh Green for the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. You can read the entire article here.

I went on to read the story of Ellen Weaver Hartman and Laura Witt Edge. Ellen’s dad was Joseph (Joe) Donald Weaver, who was a Radio Operator/Mechanic Gunner with the 9th Air Force, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad.

According to the American Air Museum in Britain, the 386th Bomb Group flew B-26 Marauders for the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. While assigned to the Eighth Air Force, the 386th developed the formation release procedure for the B-26, a medium bomber, on missions from Great Dunmow, England in the winter of 1943 – 1944 to aerodromes, marshalling yards and V-weapon sites along the coast of France. In October 1944, the 386th moved to Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris, and on to St. Trond, Belgium in support of the push eastward by ground forces.

Laura’s dad was Lawrence (Larry) Lee Witt, who was an Engineer/Waist Gunner with the 8th Air Force, 96th Bomb Group, 338th Bomb Squad.

According the the American Air Museum in Britain, the 96th Bomb Group flew B-17 Flying Fortresses to targets across occupied Europe from May 1943 to April 1945. They were awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations, the first for bombing an aircraft factory at Regensburg on August 17, 1943 under intense pressure from enemy fighters. The second was for leading the 45th Bomb Wing through difficult weather conditions and anti-aircraft fire on a mission to an aircraft components factories at Poznan on April 9, 1944.

Laura Edge knows a great deal about her father’s service in WWII. When her father was in his eighties, Laura sat down with him and one of his old crewmates and they told her their stories of WWII, Stalag Luft IV, and the Black March they endured while prisoners of war. Laura wrote a book, On the Wings of Dawn, a well-written and excellent record of the experiences of the American airmen who shared those experiences. I consider it a must-read for anyone whose father was confined in Stalag Luft IV during WWII and I will write more about it in a future post.

While Laura Edge knows a great deal about her father’s service in WWII, Ellen Weaver Hartman does not have as much information about her father’s service, but she would like to learn more. Who were the members of Joe Weaver’s originally assigned crew? How can she find a photo of that crew? If you have found your way to this article through an internet search on one of the names I’ve mentioned here, or if you recognize any of the faces in the included photos, and you have any information to share, I urge you to comment on this post or e-mail Ellen directly.

Joseph Donald Weaver on the right

Joseph (Joe) Donald Weaver was born on August 28, 1923 in Ackerman, Mississippi. On October 8, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At the time, he was living in Choctaw County. He was assigned service number 14150971. Joe served in the 8th AF, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad as a radio operator/gunner on a B-26 Maurader. The 386th Bomb Group started out with the 8th AF, but transferred to the 9th AF in 1944.

Jospeh Donald Weaver (on the right) with friends in Ireland

Early in his overseas service, Joe was in a training accident in Ireland with pilot Robert G. Fry. The American Air Museum in Britain describes Fry as an Instructor (Pilot) with the 3rd Combat Crew Replacement Center. On December 27, 1943, B-26 #41-17961 was involved in a landing accident at Froome Airfield (Station 236) near Antrim, Northern Ireland after a local training flight. The aircraft landed in a small field. Joe Weaver and four others returned.

The four others mentioned were:

John Latiloasis was from Louisiana and remained friends with Joe Weaver after the war.

The American Air Museum in Britain web site notes that after flying fifty-one missions with the Lt. Fry crew, Joe Weaver was assigned to the 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squadron of the 9th Air Force. Joe was a Radio Operator/Mechanical Gunner. On the August 6, 1944 mission to bomb fuel dumps near the Forêt d’Andainnein, east of the Domfront region of Calvados, France, Joe was flying with pilot Walter Edward Payne in B-26 #42-96184. This was Joe’s fifty-second mission, but his and the other gunners’ first mission with Captain Payne. Joe replaced Payne’s regular radio operator who had just completed his tour. Hit by flak, the plane crashed in the English Channel, one mile off the coast at Trouville-sur-Mer.  Joe Weaver was made prisoner (POW) and was interned at Stalag Luft IV in Gross Tychow/Tychowo, Poland. Four others, including Captain Payne, were also made prisoners of war. Gunner Franklin E. Swanson was killed.

Aboard B-26 42-96184 that day were officers…

Payne, Altvater, and Roggenkamp were all on their 63rd mission. All three were made prisoner.

And enlisted men…

The three enlisted men on board were all experienced gunners who had flown on earlier missions and were replacing the Payne crew’s regular gunners who had flown more than the sixty-five required missions (some with other crews) and had completed their tours.

The AAM (American Air Museum) reports that B-26 42-96184 was on its second mission of the day when it was hit by an 88mm flak shell above Le Havre, causing a fire in the right engine. Included in the missing air crew report, MACR7875, is this eyewitness statement from S/Sgt. Leonard J. Zuckerman:

I was flying as tail gunner in lead aircraft of formation in which Captain Payne was flying deputy lead.

Capt. Payne’s aircraft was hit by flak, causing fire in the right engine, which didn’t seem too large and was apparently unnoticed because ship was equipped with engine fire extinguishers. The flames subsided for a moment then flared up brightly and I saw three chutes from the tail end of the ship.

The pilot held the ship in formation for a time but was losing altitude slowly and the engine was burning brightly.

Two more chutes which evidently came from the front end of the ship, blossomed out as the ship began to lose altitude more rapidly. When about one mile off shore the right engine and wing came away from the ship and the ship itself spiraled into the channel.

I did not see a sixth chute from this aircraft. My vision was blurred after the first few minutes by hydraulic fluid which was smearing my plexiglass windshield.

This map, included in the missing air crew report was likely drawn by S/Sgt. Zuckerman to indicate the path of the aircraft, flying through the flak area and over the English Channel until it crashed in the Channel. Zuckerman also includes lattitude and longitude markings on his drawing. Zuckerman has drawn an outline around the flak area. Note the zig-zagging pattern of the aircraft through the flak area, attempting to evade the flak guns. The crew bailed out somewhere along the line indicating the aircraft’s path and probably landed somewhere between the flak area and the coastline at Trouville-sur-Mer, except for the co-pilot who actually landed in the channel about fifty feet offshore on a sandbar.

Map included in MACR7875, likely hand-drawn by witness Leonard J. Zuckerman

More information is provided in the Missing Air Crew Report, MACR7875, and in a narrative of “Mission 63” written by co-pilot H. Mark Altvater. Among the details are these:

  • According to Lt. Altvater, bombardier/navigator Lt. Roggenkamp commented on the return trip from the target that they were getting too close to Le Havre, which was heavily defended by flak guns. He did not understand why the formation did not turn to avoid Le Havre, but they had no choice but to follow the lead aircraft.
  • Lt. Altvater reported an ear-splitting explosion and realized that they had taken a direct hit from the 88mm flak guns in Le Havre. The windshield was hit and the pilot compartment was littered with dust, debris, Plexiglass splinters, and shell fragments. The fuel tanks in the right wing were punctured and spewing aviation fuel. Shortly after, they were on fire.
  • About four minutes before the crew bailed out, Sgt. Swanson announced by interphone that he had been hit by flak, but that he would not leave his guns.
  • They left formation approximately three minutes south of Trouville-sur-Mer.
  • Lt. Roggenkamp, then Lt. Altvater bailed out of the aircraft through the bomb bay slightly west of Trouville, France. Cpl. Salyer, then Sgt. Weaver, then Sgt. Swanson left the aircraft through the waist window over Trouville. The last to bail out, Payne followed Altvater and Roggenkamp out the bomb bay.
  • Captain Payne reported that his aircraft struck the ground in the English Channel approximately 10 miles west of Trouville and that none of the crew were in the aircraft at that time. (Although the witness, Zuckerman, noted the crash as one mile off shore, Payne noted ten miles off shore).
  • The other gunners reported seeing blood on Swanson’s clothing near his groin, but they did not believe he was badly wounded before he bailed out. They saw his chute come out of its pack, but it did not canopy. It merely trailed behind, apparently caused by cut shrouds.
  • After bailing out, Joe Weaver watched Franklin Swanson pass him on the way down. Swanson was trying to get his chute open as he passed Weaver. Weaver reported that Swanson’s chute was “one long streamer” and that he watched Swanson almost to the ground.
  • Payne’s supposition was that at the time that Swanson was injured, his parachute was also hit by flak causing it to fail to function properly.
  • The Germans provided Swanson’s dog tags and reported him found dead in a nearby woods. The Germans also said they buried him. He was likely buried in a local French cemetery, probably near Trouville-sur-Mer.
  • The exact locations of where all of the crew landed are not noted other than Swanson’s body was found “in a nearby woods” and Altvater reported landing in the Channel, having to wade ashore.

After enduring six months in Stalag Luft IV and three more months on the road in the Black March, Joseph Donald Weaver was liberated and returned to the US. His formal date of separation from the Army Air Forces was October, 15 1945.

Ellen Weaver Hartman would like to find relatives her dad’s crew mates, and especially relatives of Franklin Swanson, the only crew member killed aboard 42-96184 that day. When Ellen’s dad, Joe Weaver, was picking up his gear for the August 6 mission, he didn’t pick up the parachute that he was supposed to get. Instead, he picked up the previous one in the gear line. Franklin Swanson picked up the parachute that was intended for Joe, the chute that didn’t open properly and didn’t deliver him safely to the ground. Joe Weaver was so upset over this that when he was liberated and returned home after the war, he and his parents drove from Mississippi to New York to visit Franklin’s parents. But, probably not considered by Joe was the possibility that the parachute Swanson picked up from the gear line was damaged by flak rather than defective.

Sgt. Franklin Swanson was born in 1923. His parents were Charles and Margaret Swanson and he had a younger brother named Carl. They were from Buffalo, Erie County, New York. Franklin enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 28, 1942 in Buffalo and his service number was 12139321. He was noted, at the time of his enlistment, as being employed in the building of aircraft and also as single, without dependents. He served as an Ap. (airplane) Armorer Gunner with the 386th Bomb Group (Medium), 554th Bomb Squadron in WWII.

Franklin Swanson died August 6, 1944. He was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. He was re-interred in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Plot B Row 9 Grave 6. Ellen plans to visit Franklin Swanson’s grave this summer.

Ellen Weaver Hartman would like to find the names of the men on which her father, Joseph Donald Weaver, served as an original crew and would also like to find a photo of the crew. Was the pilot of his original crew Robert Fry? Or did Weaver only fly with Fry on training missions?

She’d also like to find the exact location where the crew bailed out of the aircraft before it crashed into the channel, and also the places they landed and where Franklin Swanson’s body was found. In sixty seconds after bail out, the plane would have been over the sea, so it must have been very near the coastline, probably within a mile of Trouville-sur-Mer.

Ellen would also like to know what happened next. Her dad mentioned going to Chalon, France, and her mother told of a packed train ride to Dusseldorf, Germany.

Ellen would like to find more information about Franklin Swanson, pilot instructor Robert G. Fry, and the other men with which her father served in WWII. If any relatives of any of the men mentioned in this article stumble across it, Ellen Weaver Hartman would love to hear from you to learn more about the men her father flew with under pilot Robert Fry (Robert G. Fry, Pierre S. Buckner, Vernon R. Hodges, and John G. Latiloasis), and the men he flew with under pilot Walter Payne (Walter E. Payne, Hubert M. Altvater, Edward William Roggenkamp, William L. Salyer, and Franklin E. Swanson).

If you are related to any of these men or have any information for Joe Weaver’s daughter Ellen, please contact her through e-mail using this link:  contact Ellen Weaver Hartman.

Notes

To learn more about the B-26 Marauder, click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

The Congressional Record

John William Warner, a veteran of WWII, served as Secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974 and as a five-term United States Senator from Virginia from January 1979 to January 2009.  On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, Mr. Warner entered the following commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237):

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the
Forced March of
American Prisoners of War from Stalag Luft IV
 

Mr. President, today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Victory in Europe Day is one of the milestone dates of this century. I rise today to honor a group of Americans who made a large contribution to the Allied victory in Europe while also enduring more than their fair share of personal suffering and sacrifice: The brave men who were prisoners of war.

I believe it is appropriate to commemorate our World War II POW’s by describing one incident from the war that is emblematic of the unique service rendered by those special people. This is the story of an 86-day, 488-mile forced march that commenced at a POW camp known as Stalag Luft IV, near Gross Tychow, Poland, on February 6, 1945, and ended in Halle, Germany on April 26, 1945. The ordeal of the 9,500 men, most of whom were U.S. Army Air Force Bomber Command noncommissioned officers, who suffered through incredible hardships on the march yet survived, stands as an everlasting testimonial to the triumph of the American spirit over immeasurable adversity and of the indomitable ability of camaraderie, teamwork, and fortitude to overcome brutality, horrible conditions, and human suffering.

Bomber crews shot down over Axis countries often went through terrifying experiences even before being confined in concentration camps. Flying through withering flak, while also having to fight off enemy fighters, the bomber crews routinely saw other aircraft in their formations blown to bits or turned into fiery coffins. Those who were taken POW had to endure their own planes being shot down or otherwise damaged sufficiently to cause the crews to bail out. Often crewmates–close friends–did not make it out of the burning aircraft. Those lucky enough to see their parachutes open had to then go through a perilous descent amid flak and gunfire from the ground.

Many crews were then captured by incensed civilians who had seen their property destroyed or had loved ones killed or maimed by Allied bombs. Those civilians at times would beat, spit upon, or even try to lynch the captured crews. And in the case of Stalag Luft IV, once the POW’s had arrived at the railroad station near the camp, though exhausted, unfed, and often wounded, many were forced to run the 2 miles to the camp at the points of bayonets. Those who dropped behind were either bayonetted or bitten on the legs by police dogs. And all that was just the prelude to their incarceration where they were underfed, overcrowded, and often maltreated.

In February 1945, the Soviet offensive was rapidly pushing toward Stalag Luft IV. The German High Command determined that it was necessary that the POW’s be evacuated and moved into Germany. But by that stage of the war, German materiel was at a premium, and neither sufficient railcars nor trucks were available to move prisoners. Therefore the decision was made to move the Allied prisoners by foot in a forced road march.

The 86-day march was, by all accounts, savage. Men who for months, and in some cases years, had been denied proper nutrition, personal hygiene, and medical care, were forced to do something that would be difficult for well-nourished, healthy, and appropriately trained infantry soldiers to accomplish. The late Doctor [Major] Leslie Caplan, an American flight surgeon who was the chief medical officer for the 2,500-man section C from Stalag Luft IV, summed up the march up this year:

It was a march of great hardship * * * (W)e marched long distances in bitter weather and on starvation rations. We lived in filth and slept in open fields or barns. Clothing, medical facilities and sanitary facilities were utterly inadequate. Hundreds of men suffered from malnutrition, exposure, trench foot, exhaustion, dysentery, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

A number of American POW’s on the march did not survive. Others suffered amputations of limbs or appendages while many more endured maladies that remained or will remain with them for the remainder of their lives. For nearly 500 miles and over 86 days, enduring unbelievably inhumane conditions, the men from Stalag Luft IV walked, limped and, in some cases, crawled onward until they reached the end of their march, with their liberation by the American 104th Infantry Division on April 26, 1945.

Unfortunately, the story of the men of Stalag Luft IV, replete with tales of the selfless and often heroic deeds of prisoners looking after other prisoners and helping each other to survive under deplorable conditions, is not well known. I therefore rise today to bring their saga of victory over incredible adversity to the attention of my colleagues. I trust that these comments will serve as a springboard for a wider awareness among the American people of what the prisoners from Stalag Luft IV–and all prisoner of war camps–endured in the pursuit of freedom.

I especially want to honor three Stalag Luft IV veterans who endured and survived the march. Cpl. Bob McVicker, a fellow Virginian from Alexandria, S. Sgt. Ralph Pippens of Alexandria, LA, and Sgt. Arthur Duchesneau of Daytona Beach, FL, brought this important piece of history to my attention and provided me with in-depth information, to include testimony by Dr. Caplan, articles, personal diaries and photographs.

Mr. McVicker, Mr. Pippens, and Mr. Duchesneau, at different points along the march, were each too impaired to walk under their own power.  Mr. McVicker suffered frostbite to the extent that Dr. Caplan told him, along the way, that he would likely lose his hands and feet–miraculously, he did not; Mr. Pippens was too weak from malnutrition to walk on his own during the initial stages of the march; and Mr. Duchesneau almost became completely incapacitated from dysentery. By the end of the march, all three men had lost so much weight that their bodies were mere shells of what they had been prior to their capture–Mr. McVicker, for example, at 5 foot, 8 inches, weighed but 80 pounds. Yet they each survived, mostly because of the efforts of the other two–American crewmates compassionately and selflessly helping buddies in need.

Mr. President, I am sure that my colleagues join me in saluting Mr. McVicker, Mr. Pippens, Mr. Duchesneau, the late Dr. Caplan, the other survivors of the Stalag Luft IV march, and all the brave Americans who were prisoners of war in World War II. Their service was twofold: first as fighting men putting their lives on the line, each day, in the cause of freedom and then as prisoners of war, stoically enduring incredible hardships and showing their captors that the American spirit cannot be broken, no matter how terrible the conditions. We owe them a great debt of gratitude and the memory of their service our undying respect.


Information in the above commemoration is sobering.  I must point out, however, that it is not entirely accurate.  The march did indeed start on February 6, 1945, but for many of the prisoners it did not end until May 2, 1945.  There were several groups, or columns, of men marching.  My father, George Edwin Farrar, was in the group of men that were still on the road until May 2, when they were liberated by the British.  If you calculate the dates, the number of days between February 6 and May 2, 1945 is 86.

Along with my father, who was the sole survivor from the Buslee crew aboard Lead Banana, two of the three survivors from the Brodie crew aboard Lazy Daisy were also imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV.  They were Harry Allen Liniger and Wilfred Frank Miller.  And Liniger and Miller were later joined at Stalag Luft IV by former crewmate William Edson Taylor just one week after they were captured.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Laurie Newbold

More than a year had passed since George Edwin Farrar spent his last day marching across Germany and his ultimate liberation on May 2, 1945.  We Americans that know of the Black March probably picture the marching prisoners in our minds as American, but my father’s companion on the march was a British soldier, not American.  From this letter my father kept since 1946, I must assume that he was housed in a Stalag Luft IV barracks that was a mixture of American and British prisoners.

July 15, 1946
6 Forest View Cottages
Belton
NR Loughborough
Leicestershire
England

Dear George,

It seems a long time since those unhappy days at Luft 4 & the three months marching but I haven’t forgotten the many Yank friends that I made & thought that I would give you time to settle down before I dropped you a line. I hope this finds you in the best of health old-timer & settled down to your home life again, enjoying all those good things that we used to dream about, steaks, chocolate, ices, etc. I’m sure you deserve them all.

I hope that this letter also brings back a few pleasant memories of England with its small hawthorn hedged fields & narrow country lanes. It looks very lovely at the moment as the crops are just about ripe & everywhere is so green. I am writing just after my Sunday tea & it is one of those rare sunny days that we get so few of over here.

I have been demobbed 12 months now & am back at work with promotion to shop foreman. My family has also risen to two boys since I got back. I expect you are also out of the Army Air Force.

Have you ever come across any more of Room 12. Old Mac Whorter lives down south at East Bernstadt, N London, Kentucky but I forgot that your states are as big as England. If you do write any of them please give them my regards.

I have been keeping my eyes open for some card-views of England, but I am sorry to say George that they are not yet back on the market but I shall remember. Try & get me some of those railway view that you told me about.

I’m afraid there’s not too much of anything yet over here & rations are as strict if not stricter than they were during war-time. Now bread as gone on rations due to the state of the continent, the capitalist clique over here are making a lot of party capital out of it but we shall pull through this the same as everything else.

Now that the American loan as gone through we expect to get more petrol, newspapers & a bit more variety in our very dull meals. I’m sure that you won’t regret it when you know what good it will do. It’s no good to anyone as money alone & a thriving Britain means more trade for the U.S.A. as I see it. Anyway our two countries must stick together.

I never saw you again after the day we were liberated. I understand that nearly all your boys stopped the first night at Boizenburg but most of the RAF went straight on to Luneburg & I got there that night. From there I went to Emsdetten near Holland & then flew to England in a Lanc [possible abbreviation for Lancaster bomber].

Well George I expect I could write all night about the past but most of that’s best forgotten, don’t you think. I hope this letter finds you, & I shall be looking forward to your reply. By-the way are you married yet. Write & give me all the news. Please give your family my regards.

Well I must draw to a close as I’m going up to the local pub which my father-in-law runs. I should like to have you here & treat you to a pint of good old mild which I know you used to like.

Cheerio for now old pal & all the very best.

Your Limey Pal,
Laurie Newbold

1946-07-15-Newbold-006-Signature

Notes:

“Old Mac Whorter” was Cecil C. McWhorter of Kentucky.  He was a Staff Sergeant with the 351st bomb group.  McWhorter was a left waist gunner on the Charles E. Cregar, Jr. crew on the 351st’s October 3, 1944 mission 213 to the Nuremburg railroad marshaling yards.  All on board became POW’s with the exception of bombardier John F. Dwyer, who lost his life on that mission.  MACR9358 contains details, but I have not yet been able to locate a copy.  McWhorter died February 10, 1965 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.

© 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

The March

Three of the survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana – George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, and Wilfred Frank Miller – were being held as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV.  Stalag Luft IV was located in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, which is now Tychowo, Poland.

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 the 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 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.

Back home, the relatives and friends of Farrar, Liniger, and Miller pictured the three dealing with the hardships of prison camp life.  They had no idea their loved ones were enduring something even worse.  “The March” meant walking fifteen to twenty miles a day.  It meant very little food.  It meant sleeping in piles of hay in barns and sometimes out in the open.  It meant exhaustion, illness, and starvation.  Some would not reach liberation, but most just kept marching, with thoughts of home and family keeping them going.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014