- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Alfred Edward Gray
- Location of story:
- Poland and Germany
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 June 2004
D-Day 6th June 1944 was not the end of the war, but the beginning of many months of fighting by the advancing allies. My father, Alfred Gray, a prisoner of war, did not arrive home until April 1945 after three months forced marching.
Alf was taken prisoner in 1940 fighting in the rearguard action near Dunkirk to help our army to retreat to the beaches. My mother, Violet, received a letter in June 1940 from his Captain informing her that her husband was "still missing - last seen at Hazebrook on May 27th." At last a card came from the Red Cross, Geneva, dated 1st July 1940 stating that "Gray Alfred Ed. Bombardier 58th Light AA Regt. R.A. is interned in camp STALAG XXA. He is well." This must have been a great relief to know he was alive. I was 4 years old when my mother was going through this worrying time. There followed five long years of separation but they kept in touch with loving correspondence.
My father also kept a diary during his time as a P.O.W. I found the diary when I was clearing my parents' bungalow in 2000 after Dad had died, aged 90 years. He was 35 years in 1945 when he and his comrades endured their three months ordeal. Here are some excerpts of the graphic details:
20 Jan. 3 a.m. Forced evacuation march from Thorn - 32kilometres to Schulitz - slept in field of snow.
21 Jan. 6 a.m. 41k. Bromberg - sleep in garage.
22 Jan. 32k. Immenham.
23 Jan. 14k spend night in Fire Station.
24 Jan. 4k Vanburg
25 Jan. 40k big farm outside Flatow
26 Jan. Receive bread rations and polony.
10 p.m. blizzard, march to 6.30 a.m.
27 Jan. 20k sledge breaks down, dump all kit, wet feet. move off 2.30 p.m. 10k.
28 Jan. Farm. tend skinned and frostbitten feet.
31 Jan. 40k gruelling march, hilly roads thick with snow. Boys all in. Still no hot meal.
1st Feb. 20k to barn. Hope terrible ordeal will soon be over."
It was not to be over soon. They marched into Northern Poland and then through Germany. They had very little food, often just potatoes. Some men were too weak to carry on. Dad was worrying about not being able to write home. By 16th February they had marched 571k. and survived heavy bombing. "lice among boys - no change of clothing or a bath" 16th March "I am still sticking it out. I am coming back." 18 March - total distance in 8 weeks 775k.
21 March pass over River Elbe. Pass refugee wagons, 13 dead horses on roadside. 24 March hundreds of our planes overhead. 26 March - distance marched 926k. CELLE.
28 March - air raids, entrain in goods wagons, 60 men in a wagon, 1 loaf to 6 men, very uncomfortable. 29 March Springe, split into working groups along railway line. 2nd April - Germans pouring back from West. Yanks outside Kassel. German troops rushing from East to stem attack. Still no chance to write home. 7th April - 5 a.m. march 43k through Hanover - people hungry, Jerries deserting. 11th April - Germans flee, only 12 guards. 12th April -It looks as if I will be home for Irene's birthday honey. (Every daily diary entry ended with a personal loving message) 14th April - Yanks 3k away WE ARE FREE. 16th April - with 2 friends commandeer tractor but halted by blown up bridge. Yank lorry takes us to Hanover. REMEs take us to camp. 17th April receive bath, delouse, burn all clothing and receive brand new outfit. Good dinner, sent Celle for transport home, three men to room, spring bed! 18th April 8 a.m. bacon and beans. Over 600 men here waiting for air transport. 22nd April leave in transport planes for Tilburn, change planes, cross Channel in Stirling bomber, Ostend to Clacton, land Aylesbury. Wonderful reception and tea by WAAFs then to Amersham in lorry to a Reception camp.
On 23rd April after three months with no news Mam received telegram "DARLING ARRIVED SAFE SEE YOU SOON LOVE ALF."
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