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The Long Journey Home: A Prisoner of War in Upper Silesiaicon for Recommended story

by Carol

Contributed by 
Carol
People in story: 
William Pearson from Northumberland
Location of story: 
Germany and Poland
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2343917
Contributed on: 
25 February 2004

My father is now dead (he died in 1997 aged 77 yrs) but this is his story by his daughter Carol Pearson.

On 22 January 1945 my dad was in a POW Camp E209, near Bobrek, a mining town in Upper Silesia. This was a commando working camp out of the famous Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf, (which had also housed Douglas Bader of the RAF).

They woke late, which was highly unusual, and just mooched around until their hut was unlocked at 9.30am. They all piled out to the wash-house, then had a meagre breakfast of black bread and ersatz coffee, but could tell something was different. Their guards didn't seem to know anything when questioned but there was obviously something up. The rumour was that the Russians were getting closer and they were all going to be abandoned by the Germans to the Russians. My dad said they did nothing all day which was like a holiday as usually they would have been working down the mines. There were about 120 men in this camp. A Red Cross lorry arrived with parcels for them to be distributed, then after this they were all told to line up and be ready to march at 5pm with whatever belongings they could carry. My dad and some friends in his hut knocked up wooden sledges from their bunk beds to haul their stuff in as the snow was lying pretty thick. Then off they started on a march which was to last until May 1st.

They marched and marched, day after day, sometimes, my father thought, in circles, as he didn't think the Germans knew where they were going either. On the second day they stopped at Hindenberg, where another column of prisoners joined them. My father managed to trade five bars of chocolate with a little German boy for his sledge which had steel runners and was much lighter and easier to pull through the snow. He said the little boy was delighted with the bargain! The prisoners who had joined them were Russians. They were shambling wrecks of men as the Geneva Convention did not apply to them and so they had no Red Cross parcels to sustain them like the British did. My dad's friend George Burn made the mistake once of opening a tin of meat on one of their halts, next to some of these Russians, only to find them crowding close begging for some of it. When they opened another tin and held it out to the Russians a wrestling match started for it, they were so hungry. German guards had to break it up and they told the English lads never to do that again.

They started off again, day after day, more prisoners joining them all the way, their guards changing every so often. The Russians were at the front and every now and again, they would see one kneeling at the roadside with a German standing beside him as they went by, then a shot would ring out and that German would pass them by on his own to get to the front again. The days went by, the snow came down, they hardly had any sleep as the stops were very brief. They crossed the River Oder where they had two days' rest billeted in barns and cowsheds. The Russians were eventually taken off to God knows what kind of fate and the column bow consisted of about 800 British. The month of March wore on and the snow disappeared. They had to abandon their sledges although their Red Cross parcels had diminished by now anyway. (The guards' kits were all drawn in horse pulled wagons at the rear).

American fighter planes began to circle overhead, which they had to wave at, the German guards mingling in among the prisoners for safety. My dad said some of the lads had a large Union Jack which they would spread on the ground whenever they saw an American plane to let them know who they were, as they once had been raked with bullets and had to dive down into ditches at the side of the road.

In Czechoslovakia they found friends. Civilians lined the road giving them bread and fruit, and the Germans allowed it as they had no means themselves of feeding the prisoners. They passed through Prague but the populace this time was cleared from the streets as they went through. They passed into Germany and stayed for a week on two large State farms. They raided potato cellars for food and found one with sacks of flour and oatmeal and baked crude scones out of them. (The farmer was arrested by the German commandant for hoarding food.) They marched on into April, the food situation getting worse, but the weather better.

Their marathon trek went on until May 1st. They had come to a bridge over a river and were told to halt. The German guards all ran to the rear of the column where their kit was, and it became apparent that they were going to run over the bridge and leave the prisoners on the other side which they did, after blowing up the bridge behind them. My father and his fellow prisoners were now free. He and two or three others found shelter at a farm where they were allowed to cook food given by the farmer and sleep in the barns. A German convoy of tanks passed by but they stayed hidden in the farmer's cellar till they were gone. Another convoy passed later which blew up a nearby bridge. My dad and four others later crossed this bridge which still was not completely blown away and made their way to the nearby village.

When bullets ripped passed them and over their heads they dropped into ditches and called out that they were British, to be replied to in American voices telling them to advance with arms raised. On assuring themselves they were British, the Americans then gave them chocolate and cigarettes (Camels and Chesterfields). The next day the village was crowded with the rest of the British POWs, chatting to Americans, eating chocolate and biscuits and smoking their heads off. They stayed here a fortnight, eating well and getting on well with the Americans, who they occasionally helped to round up straggling German soldiers, four of whom had been hiding out on the same farm my father had been on, in the stables. (I have two or three photos of my father with some of these Americans.)

Eventually my father's contingent was loaded into trucks and driven by Negro drivers at breakneck speed to a large canvas American camp and next day were driven to an airfield near Landschutt and were boarded onto Dakota troop carriers and flown to Rheims in France and handed over to the RAF to be flown home in Lancaster bombers. When they flew over the English Channel they didn't get to see the White Cliffs of Dover which had long been a dream of theirs when they were in the POW camp. They landed at Weston and were given a huge tea party in an aeroplane hangar waited on by the WAAF. My dad said hearing English being spoken in feminine voices was a real attraction. After hot baths, clean uniforms and documentation they were on their various trains home next morning.

My father came from a small mining town called Bedlington in Northumberland which meant getting a train to Newcastle upon Tyne first, then the milk train to Bedlington arriving at 6am. The platform was deserted as his telegram had given the wrong details and everyone had been waiting for him the night before. Someone from his regiment (the Northumberland Fusiliers, now disbanded) had remarked he was astonished to see so many people waiting for my dad, as he had heard that he had been killed in 1940. This obviously was a shock to my dad's mother. He walked home alone but on reaching his house my grandmother had hung a large Union Jack from a bedroom window and when she saw him it was hugs, kisses and tears all round.

Miss Carol Pearson

These are the camps my father was moved to and from during his 5 years as a POW:

  • First captured and taken to St Omer in France on June 19th 1940. Left St Omer on 26 July.
  • Arrived Tournai 26 July. Left Tournai 13 August.
  • Arrived Alexisdorf 15th August. Left Alexisdorf 20 September.
  • Arrived Hamer? 21st September. Left Hamer 2 October.
  • Arrived Strasbourg 3 October. Left Strasbourg 10 December.
  • Arrived Hueberg 16 December, Left Hueberg 15 January 1941.
  • Arrived Zimmerssen 16 January 1941. Left Zimmerssen 5th February.
  • Arrived Villingen Hos 5 February. Left Villingen Hos 25 February.
  • Arrived Rottenmunster Hos 25 February. Left Rottenmunster Hos 11 March.
  • Arrived Villingen (camp) 11 March. Left Villingen Camp 14 March.
  • Arrived Schildberg 16 March. Left Schildberg 10 April.
  • Arrived Spatenfelde 10 April. Left Spatenfelde 5th May.
  • Arrived Schildberg again 5 May. Left Schildberg 9 May.
  • Arrived Zgierz 9 May. Left Zgierz 3 June.
  • Arrived Wolstien 3 June. Left Wolstien 15th June.
  • Arrived Lamsdorf 16 June. Left Lamsdorf 21st August.
  • Arrived Bobrek 21st August 1941 and remained there until 22nd January 1945 when he left on his Long March Home.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - The Long Journey Home

Posted on: 01 March 2004 by Carol

If this story concerning William Pearson rings a bell with anyone please reply.

musicmumcarolina

Message 1 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 17 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Carol,
Again, I had read your Mothers story then saw this one too.
Very graphic indeed. I do remember men who had been POW's during the war coming home and in 1945 when I started work as an apprentice we had some of those men working with us.
They would never speak about those times even though eager young sixteen year olds wanted to know all about it. We got the funny stories or the odd snippet but they were very quiet about the rest. There were several long marches and one of the lads I knew marched from Poland, some who stayed were freed by the Russians and I later heard some nasty stories about that though most did get home.
Those stories need to be told Carol and put on record for the future even though some people using this site believe we are being stupid by writing them on here.
I take no notice of them and write away, the war was for all the freedoms, Speech, writing and putting our saga's on here if we wish.
Keep writing Carol.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 2 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 18 March 2004 by Carol

Thank you Frank, for replying about my dad's story. I shortened it to get it all in as there was a bit more than that. I know what you mean about those stupid people who ridicule the site, especially Enola Gay (have you read his rubbishy venom) and Beniton. I sent a reply to Beniton telling him his grammar and spelling was poor.

carol.

 

Message 3 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 18 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Dear Carol,
Take no note of those who denigrate this site, it is not worth the effort of replying.
You can add to your Dad's story by putting the same heading and adding part two three or what ever.
It was a very good story well written and should be expanded if possible so please write up the rest.
It would be good to expand your Mothers story too, once it is on the page it means part of them is now there for people in the future to read about your parents and what they did.
Is that immortality who knows but it will seem like that to me when I pass on the books I am making up for my grandchildren. They may gather dust initially but some day they will want to know wont they.
Keep writing Carol and remember there are thousands of stories on this site written by honest people so why get upset about the odd dissenter, forget them.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 4 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 22 March 2004 by Carol

thanks, frank, I didn't get upset with the replies of you- know -who, I just thought, what a pompous old so and so! Never mind, it takes all sorts. I may add the other bits to my dad's story, as you said, also my mum has come up with the surnames of some of the girls in her factory, so I may add them, as before she had just told me their Christian names. You never know, if they read these stories or their descendants do, they may recognise themselves and send in a reply. carol.

 

Message 5 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 22 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Carol,
It happened in my case, people got in touch I had not heard of in years. You write it as your Mum tells it, you will both enjoy doing something worth while.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 6 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 23 March 2004 by Carol

Hello, Frank, hope you enjoyed that bacon sandwich.

This is just a thought, I don't know if you can help. When I started writing my dad's story, I filled in the first section where you have to put in names, title, where the person comes from, etc. in those little boxes. The section about "Where person is
from" has a drop down menu with the names of all the counties in England, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands etc. and you click on to the county you want, and it comes up automatically in the little box. The only problem was (and I trawled it and trawled it over and over in case I was missing it) there was no mention of the County of Northumberland which was where my dad came from (village called Bedlington).
I was a bit miffed I have to admit. So all I could put in the box was "England". I have sent an email to the powers that be pointing this out but have had no reply to it. Is there anything you can do about this omission. Northumberland is rather a large county to be missed out, and in my dads day it contained Newcastle upon Tyne (although not now) and such famous landmarks as Hadrians Wall, Alnwick Castle, Berwick upon Tweed, etc.
Just a little glitch on the BBC's part maybe. Carol.

 

Message 7 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 23 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Carol,
I did indeed enjoy that sandwich it is the king of sandwiches in my book.
Being a Durham man then every time I came on leave finding I lived somewhere else I understand what you say. Cleveland Teesside and now the county borough of Stockton? I think. What was up with county Durham I ask.

believe it or not you will find Northmberland in England as Tyneside and Northumberland. I will now pause whilst you tear your hair out. I had the same argument over Wearside and Durham, the southerners think they are all one and the same. All I can do is repeat the words of a greater man than I, "Oh Lord forgive them their sins" "They know not what they do" thats true.
Being a bit of an old hand at this site I widget away when something upsets me and it gets put right but then I have the key to the WW2 team box and leave messages in the mail box on their site.
I know and love Northumberland so you keep pushing the stories from there and lets see them in the proper box, Northumberland and proud of it. My stories all had to go into Tees, Oh well it is near enough I suppose.
Regards Frank.
PS Come back any time you wish I enjoy helping if I can.

 

Message 8 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 24 March 2004 by Carol

I'm still miffed, Frank, about Northumberland. Although I'm a County Durham girl (Gateshead was in Co Durham in those days just like Stockton) on behalf of all Northumberlanders, something should be done! On the drop down list, all it says is the word Tyne, which I took to mean the county of Tyne & Wear, but its sacriligious to incorporate Northumberland into Tyne and Wear. It's Gods Own Country as an old boss of mine use to say who lived up near Morpeth. But thanks for your thoughts anyway. Carol.

 

Message 9 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 24 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Carol,
The light dawns, I realise we were talking base about visage as us polite Stockton folk say.
The drop down list you are looking at is on the write your story here page where as the list I am looking at is on the where you live page. This appears to be another glitch in this oft labyrinththine site. Try writing Northumberland in the box and see what happens but I already know it will land up with Tyneside and Northumberland.
To those who live below the Watford Gap we are still all heathens wearing woad and dragging women round by their hair, in these modern days t'other way round I would think.
At least Gateshead is back on the map it was becoming lower Newcastle at one time, things do change.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 10 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 29 March 2004 by Carol

Hi Frank, I tried typing Northumberland into the box but it won't let me, it just keeps throwing up the long drop- down menu of counties in England, Scotland Wales, etc, none of which include Northumberland. The word Tyneside does not even appear, just the word Tyne, (the one underneath it is Tees,). Also for your own safety, don't EVER say to a Gateshead person we were once part of or are part of Newcastle. That's a mistake people further south often make. You are not in Newcastle until you cross the Tyne Bridge. An old boyfriend of mine from London, who was a truck driver used to deliver stuff to Scotland and would drive through Gateshead, over the Tyne Bridge through Newcastle on his way up to Scotland. For years he thought when he was driving through Gateshead, it was a suburb of Newcastle. When he mentioned it in a Gateshead pub to some locals, they quickly put him right in no uncertain terms. I don't think he went into that pub for quite a while after that!!! regards, Carol.

 

Message 11 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 29 March 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Hi Carol, Hi Frank
I hate people who but in on someone elses conversation but I felt I had to mention Herts.
Yes Carol, the system won't let me enter the ancient county of Hertfordshire either, so I also have to opt for England as being the source of my article.
Life is never perfect
Best wishes to you both
Ron

 

Message 12 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 29 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Carol Ron,
Know what you mean, I had the same argument with the staff about Wearside and Durham. Wearside is less than one 16th of the County of Durham so why put them first, a typical Southern mistake.
My Dad came from Prudhoe and mild man that he was if some one called him Newcastle the manure hit the fan.
I would never even mention Newcastle if I was in a Gateshead pub not unless I wanted to come out with my head screwed into an impossible position.
Herts isn't that part of London? "Ooops" sorry Ron we Northeners know nothing of anything South of Watford Gap.
It is serious though we should be able to pinpoint our area's even if it is to the largest town in that area. Oh and but in any time Ron, I do.
So day we will get it fixed meanwhile keep posting.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 13 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 30 March 2004 by Carol

Thanks, Ron, butt in when you want as long as you are polite! At least I'm not the only one whose county has been missed off the list, I was starting to get an inferiority complex!!. Carol.

 

Message 14 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 30 March 2004 by Carol

Oh Frank, don't let what I said put you off drinking in Gateshead pubs, some of them are really nice,( just stay away from watering holes on the High Street!!). No, honest, I'm only joking, they're not that bad. I see someone else's county has been missed off the list, Herts. so I don't feel so bad now.
regards Carol.

 

Message 15 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Carol

I am ploughing my way through the contributions and have only now, 3 May, got to yours.

What a sad harrowing story, but how superbly told! Yours is one of the very best contributions to this archive, long may your father's story, and that of his poor comrades, remain there.

Best wishes,

Peter

 

Message 16 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 04 May 2004 by Carol

Thanks Peter for your comments. My dad wrote it himself when he was still alive, but I amended bits of it and shortened it as it was a lot longer. Carol.

 

Message 17 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 15 May 2004 by Carol

Peter. my dads story is now categorized and has been entered in the archives list on the Front Page. Thanks for your help - Carol.

 

Message 18 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 15 May 2004 by Carol

By the way, Frank, my dads story is now entered in the archives list on the front page. My patience paid off. Carol.

 

Message 19 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 15 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Carol,
Yes at last and eleven catagories I think that is the record, we get there if we wait long enough.
I am happy for you.
Frank.

 

Message 20 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 15 November 2004 by ismeval

Hello Carol - I was very interested in reading your story about your dad. My own dad was captured in 1940 and ended up in Stalag VIIB ... over the years he didn't say too much ... but he always had his 'little box' and now and again we would have a peep. He dies over 10 years ago and we could finally read everything in his little box. There are photos of the camp, even photos of the guards, there were also 1 or 2 diaries (nothing filled in) but they were German diaries and had the phases of the moon in them. We also found photos of the railway station and some others plus a couple of maps,a photo of a young woman... a couple of camp 'magazines' and his ID things ... he had 2 copies of ID with different ranks on them !! Never figured out why? He was a company sergeant major and could build wireless from scrap ... you are so lucky that your dad told you of these things ... I wish we knew more but the Royal Norfolks (that was his regiment) don't seem to have much detail ... just to add to this after reading the replies to your post and story ... I am from Norfolk but I live in Tyne & Wear (we used to be County Durham!!) and my daughter lives in Gateshead !! ..... thanks for printing your dad's story .... Val

 

Message 21 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 15 November 2004 by ismeval

Sorry Carol - I should also have added that my dad was also on the Long March and he was in Stalag VIIIB not seven (trying to hurry as I am reading this at work !! ) .... Val

 

Message 22 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Carol

Val. I am so sorry I have never replied to your message dated 15 Nov 2004. I have only just now read through some of my old messages from Frank and found yours on the bottom. I have'nt logged on for quite some time so I didn't know you had replied. I am so pleased someone has replied whose dad was on the same march or from the same camp. That was one of the reasons I put the story on the website in the first place to see if it attracted any replies. What was your dads name, not that I can ask my dad if he knew him of course as he died a few years ago, but I am so pleased someone has answered. Thanks, Carol.

 

Message 23 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Carol

Thanks again Val. Yes it was Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf apparently it had one housed Douglas Bader after he had been shot down or so my dad told me.

Please reply any time. Carol.

 

Message 24 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 17 July 2005 by ADM1991839

Hi,
I am sure that others may have told you that Lamsdorf was originally designated as V111B.Later this was changed to Stalag 344 and V111B redesignated to Teschen. There is an account of the long march from Lamsdorf in the National Archives in a War Crimes file.

Brian

 

Message 25 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 17 July 2005 by Carol

Brian
No only my dad has ever told me that, that was what he knew it as. I have never heard that other name and he mustn't have either, as he never mentioned that to me. But thanks for the information. Was it true that Douglas Bader was once there, My dad told me this, he must have got it from other prisoners who were there before him.

Do you mean my dads march is in the National Archives or another march? there would have been others surely.

Carol

 

Message 26 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 20 July 2005 by ADM1991839

Hi,
there is an account of your dads march in the National Archives at Kew.I obtained a copy some years ago for a friend who was also in V111B or 344.
It should be easy to check if Douglas Bader was in the Camp,he made a report on his captivity when he was liberated. This has recently been opened.

Brian

 

Message 27 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 21 July 2005 by ADM1991839

Hi Carol,
from having a second look at the account of the march I refered to,it was one from the main camp.
Your dads march appears to be from the work camp.
The friend I wrote of was on the march from the main camp--Started 22nd January 1945 from Lamsdorf and finished at Brunswick(Braunscheweig)10th April 1945.
He gives the route as --Lamsdorf-Priborne-Munsterburg-Frankenstein-Reichenbach-Javer- Goldburg-Pilgrimsdorf-Lauban- Arrived Stalag 8A February 1st 1945 Left 8A February 10th 1945.Because of the bombing of Dresden the next part of the journey was as follows;-Bautzen Feb 14th-Kamenz-Meisen Feb 22nd-Zeitz -Jena-Weimar-Erfurt-Gothe- Eisenach.From here they turned North to Muhlhausen-Munden-Gottingen-Braunschweig ariving 10th April 1945.
Next tuesday I will be at the National Archive and if time allows I will look at Douglas Baders Liberation report.
By the way where was your dad taken prisoner.

Brian

 

Message 28 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 06 August 2005 by Carol

Hello Brian,

I don't know the name of the place, I just know it was somewhere in France. they were defending a little railway station, to keep the Germans back as long as they could, so others could get away. There was only a few of them left and they had to surrender to the Germans as their ammunition and supplies had run out, and were marched off to a prison camp. It was round about the time of Dunkirk, in 1940 so obviously they never made it back to Dunkirk to get off the beaches. So he basically spent the whole duration of the war from 1940 to 1945 in various prison camps. At the end of my dad's story I have printed a list of the various camps he got shifted around to for the first year until he came to Lamsdorf where he stayed for the rest of the war. And yes it was a work camp he started his march out from, not the main camp. Did you find that information out about Douglas Bader or not, thanks anyway for your trouble. Carol.

 

Message 29 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 07 August 2005 by Carol

Hi Brian,

Just to add a bit more detail, my dad was captured on 19th June 1940, it must have been near to St Omer in France as he said they were taken to a camp at St Omer then transfered on to others after that. I don't know if this is of any help in your research. Carol.

 

Message 30 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 26 October 2005 by SingaporeSyringes

Hello Carol

My farher was in E209 situated at BOBREK....and recently I have been in contact with a veteran of E209....

I do have a group photo of my fathers section of E209.....I have no idea of the other peoples names in photo.

If you would like a copy, email me via this site

Regards

 

Message 31 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 29 October 2005 by Carol

Hello. I would love a photo as you said. Please post one. I have some of my dad in his camp ,(well my sister has them at her house) but sadly I do not have a scanner on my computer so can't put any on.

Thanks for replying. Carol (Musicmum carolina)

 

Message 32 - The long journey home.

Posted on: 19 November 2005 by Carol

Hello

I still have not heard from you re that photo or any other information you may have had about Camp E209.

Musicmumcaroline

Message 1 - A2343917 - The Long Journey Home

Posted on: 04 May 2004 by Carol

Why hasn't my fathers story above been categorised yet. It was submitted 3 months ago. My mothers story has and it was submitted after my father's. So why not my dad's. MusicmumCarolina

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