- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Richard (Dick) Bradley
- Location of story:
- Stalag VIIIB Prisoner of War Camp, Upper Silesia on the Czech-Polish border
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 November 2005
FIRST BID FOR FREEDOM
While all this was going on my old mates Alf and Jim turned up, having just made two unsuccessful escape attempts. They had left Marlag und Milag long before me. Alf said to me, “Dick, with your knowledge of Southern Germany, and the language, there is no reason why we shouldn’t get a long way towards Switzerland, if not all the way, with a bit of luck”.
The first thing we had to do was to find a good working party with the help of the organisers. A few days later we started work in a sawmill in Sternberg. This was a small town near Olmutz in the Sudetenland. The main reason we needed to find a good working party was so that I could get my strength back and get fit. This sawmill was some place. The huge trees from the Czech forests came in at one end of the mill and left at the other as complete units of prefabricated huts. There was roughly 120 prisoners working in this sawmill, mixed with Polish, Czech and Sudenten civilians. This sawmill was out in the country so there was a good chance to barter for bread, fruit and occasionally a few eggs, thanks to the good things we had in our Red Cross parcels, such as cigarettes, soap, etc.
So 1942 gradually came to a close with me getting back my strength and my breathing improving. Then 1943 arrived and despite a bitter winter the first signs of spring were on the way. The time had also come for us to think seriously about escaping. This place Sternberg did not seem ideal because it was miles from anywhere. As we were sergeants we did not have to work so we asked for a return to the main camp and from there again volunteered for another working party. We also needed identity cards and travel permits which we could only get from our escape committee in the main camp.
Our plan was to travel by local train (personen oder bummelzug) to a town about 40 miles from the Swiss border and then walk the rest. We had a very good escape committee who fixed us up with excellent papers and also organised a new working party.
Our destination, along with some other prisoners, was a small spa called Freiheit Johannisbad, the place of work a cigarette paper factory. This looked an ideal spot to get a train for Goerlitz and Dresden. The factory stood on a river with a path between the building and the river and a guard patrolled up and down this path. After a few days reconnoitring it became clear that our only way out was across the river. Here again we were in close contact with civilians of all kinds. Money was no problem and shirts, ties, cardigans, socks and shoes we had from our parcels from home. Hats, suitable clothing and attache cases were not easy to get hold of. We managed to sort out Alf and myself with clothing but for Jimmy it was a problem. As we didn’t want to waste time we decided that Alf and I should have a go and Jim would help us across the river by keeping the guard occupied for a while with a smoke and a chat. I should mention that these guards were not front line soldiers and most likely fed up with being far away from home. I must also mention that planning for an escape makes one a thief because anything useful you see lying around such as a hat or jacket you have to take as it might come in handy.
By now it was early July 1943 and everything seemed to go well for Alf and me, including the weather. On the first Tuesday in July we made a trial run across the river at the same time taking a few bits of our food and our clothing across and hiding it in the bushes. Everything went like clockwork so we made up our mind that the next day, Wednesday, would be it. Jim did his duty with the guard and Alf and I were on the other side in no time. We changed and by 16.45 we were at the station. My mouth was so dry I could hardly ask for the tickets. Fifteen minutes later we were in a crowded train on our way to Goerlitz. What a relief and what a wonderful feeling! Roll call would not be until 8 o’clock, which gave us a good start. We were convinced that the Germans would not give us credit for taking a train and in any case, by 8 o’clock we would be miles away.
We travelled as far as Goerlitz with one change on the way. As the train went through the country we could see lots of allotments outside most towns and that seemed to be the answer to our problem of where to spend the night. The first thing on arriving in Goerlitz was to study the timetable for the departure of the early morning train for Dresden, then off we went to find the allotments. Twenty minutes walk was all we needed and all our problems were solved. We even had a shed and running water. Early Thursday morning we were at the station booking our tickets for Dresden, then on to Chemnitz, Plaven and Hof. Somewhere along the line we bought newspapers so we looked busy reading them, at the same time studying what was going on during the journey. We did not wish to be disturbed by any busybody who might want to talk to us.
Hof was our destination for the day and having arrived safe and sound we again looked for the departure of the first train on Friday morning in the direction of Bayreuth -Nuremberg. Much to our disappointment we could not find any allotments in Hof but we did find a cemetery with lots of bushes and trees where we could rest undisturbed, the only snag being that we did not have any washing facilities. We were at the station very early on the Friday morning and had plenty of time for a wash. There was only one wash basin and whoever had used it did not empty it. It was the kind of wash basin that had to be turned over for emptying and one push from me and the whole lot fell to pieces. What a mess! That was the end of our wash and shave and we were away as quick as lightening.
Soon the train took us to Nuremberg, passing through Bayreuth on route. Nuremberg was reached around midday and lo and behold, we had the opportunity to get cleaned up and have enough time to have a coupon-free meal which consisted of potatoes, carrots and parsley sauce - no complaints from us! Our destination was Ulm which we hoped to reach by dusk, all being well. This old city was reached safely on Friday evening and we had one hour to spare before the last train to Tuttlingen, so the station restaurant was the place to go for a coupon-free meal. No sooner had we sat down than a young woman took a seat next to Alf and began to talk to him. I immediately butted in telling this good lady that we were pushed for time to catch a train. Alf caught on to what was happening and we left the place faster than we came in.
Now for our last train journey which should take us to Tuttlingen in 1.5hours. No sooner had the train left the station when we had our first real shock of the trip. Two policemen, or Gestapo, each one with an alsatian dog, entered the carriage asking different people for identity cards as they walked through. We must have said our morning prayers because they passed us by. We arrived at Tuttlingen, barely 30-40 miles from Switzerland, only 55 hours after escaping. It seemed so unreal and impossible. As we were now in the heart of the Black Forest we did not have to walk very far to be in the forest surrounded by pine trees. What a relief it was to stretch our legs, take a deep breath and relax. Sleep soon came upon us. Also we didn’t have to worry about catching a train in the morning.
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