ferocious brutality, the guards drove into the marching column bayonetting and clubbing and releasing the
dogs to savage the crowd who started to run down the road.
Bill had his kitbag knocked from his back and the Doll’s House he had made for his daughter Chris fell out. An
SS officer came over and stamped on it, leaving just a pile of what looked like matchsticks. With one of the
greatest understatements of the time, Bill described this as “chased from station to camp” in his log.
The bloody march continued for about another two miles until they reached Stalag Luft IV. The handcuffs were
undone but there was one further hurdle to come: in front of them were about 40 Hitler Youth armed with
cudgels, lined up facing each other about 4ft apart and standing between the beaten up men and the camp
gate. The PoWs had to run the gauntlet one by one. Having had very little food for nine days, limbs and
muscles cramped by lack of space and bodies injured in a horrific march, they had few reserves but somehow
found the strength to reach the camp. After two nights outside they were given naked strip searches and a
medical examination that was punctuated by kicks and punches to the kidneys and other tender places.
After the examination, the battered and humiliated prisoners were allowed to dress and were then moved to a
large compound where they were housed in small huts that were more like dog kennels, measuring 12 ft by 6
ft and with ten men to each. Entry had to be on hands and knees. The kennels were home to the Kriegies for
two months before they were moved to larger wooden huts intended for 10 men but ending up with 50 each.
The Beginning of the End
With allied advances gathering pace, Hitler ordered prisoners to be force marched west to remove them from
potential combat zones. SS Generalleutnant Gottlob Berger had been put in charge of PoW camps in 1944
and later told the Nuremberg Trial of Hitler's plans to hold 35,000 Allied prisoners hostage in a 'last redoubt' in
the Bavarian mountains. If a peace deal was not forthcoming, Hitler had ordered that the hostages were to be
executed. Berger decided not to carry out the order and so the “Great March” or “Long Walk” began.
With little notice, Bill, Sid and Ginger were among those made to leave Stalag Luft IV on 6th February 1945 in
the coldest winter of the 20th century in Europe, with blizzards and temperatures as low as -25oC. They were
ill-prepared for the evacuation, having suffered years of poor rations and wearing clothing ill-suited to the
appalling winter conditions. The PoWs were broken up in groups of 250 to 300 men who would march 20-40
km a day, resting in factories, churches, barns and even in the open. Soon long columns of PoWs were
wandering over the northern part of Germany with little or nothing in the way of food, clothing, shelter or medical
care. Some who tried to escape or could not go on were shot by guards. Those with intact boots had the
dilemma of whether to remove them at night - if they left them on, Trench Foot could result; if they removed
them, they may not get their swollen feet back into their boots in the morning or, worse, the boots may freeze
or be stolen.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of German civilian refugees, most of them women and children, as
well as civilians of other nationalities, were also making their way westward on foot.
With little food they were reduced to scavenging to survive. Some were reduced to eating dogs and cats and
even rats and grass – anything they could purloin. Already underweight from years of prison rations, some
were at half their pre-war body weight by the end. This near starvation diet and the unsanitary conditions
resulted in hundreds dying of disease along the way and many more were ill. Dysentery was common and
sufferers had the indignity of soiling themselves whilst having to continue to march. This disease was easily
spread from one group to another when they followed the same route and rested in the same places. Typhoid,
spread by lice, was a risk for all POWs, but was now increased by using overnight shelter previously occupied
by infected groups. Some men simply froze to death in their sleep.
Sid was one of many to suffer frostbite in his feet and it was Bill who drew on his physical strength to help Sid
through the arduous journey. But then Bill himself fell ill with an appendicitis. He was unceremoniously taken
to the side of the road where his appendix was removed by local anaesthetic and then he was made to march
again. The two chums again helped each other in the face of adversity but this time with the real threat of
being left behind or even shot.
The group containing Bill and Sid reached Stalag 357 at Fallingbostal, Saxony, just north of Hanover, on 20th
March. They had walked over 500 miles in those six freezing weeks and many of the approximately 80,000
British and Allied men died on the way. Estimates of the death toll vary between 3,500 and 8,300.