- Contributed by
- Chris Knifton
- People in story:
- Leonard Perkins
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 February 2004
My dad, Leonard Perkins was captured on the island of Crete in 1st June 1941 along with many other comrades. The first few days of his capture was spent sleeping under the olive groves. Later in June or July they were put on board a ship and taken to Thessalonika. They were housed in a large camp and were given little food and no shelter. A few days later they were loaded into cattle trucks (40 to a truck) and taken on a journey which took 5 - 10 days, finally arriving at Stalag VIIA at Mooseburg. Here the men were de-loused, had their hair shaven and were provided with cast-off uniforms. Here they were issed with an identity tag.They remained at this camp until 1942 and whilst here they were made to work clearing and sweeping roads.
In early 1942 they were again loaded into cattle trucks and taken to Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf. This was an extremely large camp, the food was poor and the men were housed in large huts which housed 30 - 40 men. The men in this camp were sorted into working parties and my father found himself being sent to camp E586, Sosnowiec, a coaling mining village in Poland.
This camp made use of a school building and the prisoners were made to work down the nearby mines, which were called Juliusz and Kazimierz. Each day the men were marched to the mines and as most of the men were inexperienced in this area of work, there were many accidents. The men worked very long shifts and there was a day and night shift.
My father remained in this camp until January 1945, when the POW's were ordered by the Germans officers to pack what they could carry and begin marching west. The Russians were advancing and all POW camps were being evacuated. Little did the men know how long or far this walk was to be.
From Poland they walked to Czechoslovakia, Austria and finally Germany. The weather was very bad - very cold and frosty and deep snow. The men walked up to 20 miles a day and the more tired they became, the less they were able to carry. The food that they were given was extremely poor and they spent the nights in barns and a regular occurance was to find their boots frozen to their feet. The men who took their boots off, found they were unable to get them back on again. Along the way they saw many sad sights and many men did not complete the journey.
This journey covered, it is said, 1000 miles. The men were in poor health, under nourished, and badly clothed.
The march ended in Regenburg in April 1945 but even here after walking all that way, the men were put to work filling in bomb holes, some unfortunately being killed by friendly fire!
Eventually as the war came to an end the soldiers were flown home to England.
I feel most people have never hear of this "March to Freedom" and by writing this short account, I hope I bring it to the notice of many more people. I am sure that there are much better accounts of these marches than the one I have written, but I feel I owe it to my Dad to relate the story as I understand it.
In April 2005, the 65th anniversary of the 1000 mile march to freedom, I was able to make a visit to the school in Sosnowiec, Poland. My husband and I and two friends were shown around the school (now still used as a school) and of course took many photos. I know from two drawings that a comrade of my father's drew that the school has not altered, the only thing that has changed is that the guard house no longer exists. I was able to see the building just as it was in 1945 and even see the mines (one of which is still in use)where my fathers worked.
This was an unforgetable experience.
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