Bankau Stalag Luft 7 Diary

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by markbuk, Nov 16, 2011.

  1. markbuk

    markbuk Junior Member

    My grandfather was a P.O.W on this march and when I inherited his things from the war I came across a diary that describes the march. The diary is not my grandfathers and I could not say how he came across it.

    I have seen other posts on this subject so hope this is of interest to some people. Well worth the read.

    1400 prisoners of war started the march through the snow and ice of winter less than 1000 survived. Over 400 died of starvation, frost bite or exaustion. Des Mathews, Dick Samways and Ken Bedford (my grandfather) survived the march all members of 148 squadron and the Warsaw 44 club.

    Sergeant Ben Couchman

    P.O.W kept the following pencial written diary during the forced march from Bankau in Poland to Luckenwalde near Potsdam during January/February, 1945.

    January 17th, 1945: Bankau Stalag Luft 7

    Things went as usual until about 11 am when we were given orders by the Germans to leave ahead of the Russian advance. Then the panic started. Food that was likely to be left was eaten. Headquarters, stores and the cook house were ransacked.

    Rumours were plentiful:

    "P.O.Ws unable to walk would be left behind."

    "During the march for every man who escaped or tried to escape, five would be shot."

    "We were outflanked by the Russians and there was no hope of the march succeeding."

    There was a roll call at 4pm and we were told that probably the march would commence early the next morning, at the latest mid day. During this day there had been a continuous line of trucks, wagons and carts carrying military and refugees, proceeding to the west along the road passing the camp.

    About 6pm Germans ordered 'prepare to move' and issued marching rations: half loaf, marg., honey and piece of sausage. At 10.30pm ordered to goto bed.

    January 18th

    Woke up shivering as my blankets had remained packed overnight. Soup 8.30am roll call 9.30am. Formed into three parties and were told this would be our marching order. The roads were full of lorries, horse and cart and refugees from the Russian advance.

    Latest rumour:

    "We were marching to Stalagluft 3 Sagan, which was 200kms away."

    At 4pm in the afternoon another roll call ordered and we were informed that the march was postponed for two of three days. Half an hour later we were ordered to parade ready to leave.

    We waited for about an hour and then drifted off to the billets. The German guards were as confused as we were. Food was becoming a problem, but a further raid on the cookhouse produced some oats and treacle.

    The air raid warning sounded while we were preparing the watery porridge, and the lights went out. After which all the 'non walking' P.O.Ws were shipped out of camp to travel with civilian refugees. We were told to parade at 4am the next morning, and so to bed.

    January 19th

    Lights on at 3.30am Paraded at 4am. Stood around in the cold snow until 7am when we trudged out. That day we walked 28kms, with the longest stop being half an hour. As we had proceeded the P.O.Ws had discarded in the roadside much of their possessions that were impossible to carry through the snow. Marching with an accordion was impossible for one P.O.W and it was tossed into the snow with a lot of other possessions. At night we were lodged in barns, I slept (?) sitting up.

    January 20th

    Awakened 4am and started marching about 6am Gerry said that Kreuzburg, that we went through yesterday, had fallen to the Russians and that they were now about 10kms behind us. Gunfire could be heard all day. The marching was difficult in the soft snow and the P.O.Ws threw more of their kit away. The guards picked a lot of it up.

    Reached Karlsruhe shortly before noon and were put in a brick factory. Received cups of acorn coffee from field kitchen. At 7pm we were back on the road. The bridges over the river Oder were to be blown up by 8am the next morning and we were to be over the river before that time.

    January 21st

    We had walked all night through the snow and crossed the Oder river at dawn. We were told that there would be rest and accomodation at a village about 5kms ahead. We heard the explosions of the Oder bridges as we marched.

    When we arrived at the village there was no shelter for us. We walked a further 8kms and found a refuge in barns. During the night some men dropped out due to the intense cold and fatigue. The only food we had during the past twenty four hours was three slices of bread, a spoonful of bully, a small bag of biscuits and a cup of coffee we had marched for about fourteen hours through the snow. To bed and the name of the village is Buckette.

    January 22nd

    Roused by Gerry at 1.30am who said we had to move quickly as the Russians had crossed the Oder north of us. There was an argument with Gerry before we marched another 20kms.

    We sheltered once again in big barns. We received one biscuit between two and a pound of margarine to last five days. we dug in the frozen earth and found pieces of potatoes, carrots and peads and made ourselves a cup of soup, and then to our blankets. We had two blankets and slept fully dressed with every bit of clothing that we possessed. The village nearby was Jenkwiz.

    January 23rd

    We were called at 6am and were on the road at 8am promised better billets and a good meal when we arrived at our next destination. However, when we finally arrived it was more big cold barns, a cup of tea, a cup of soup, we found a few spuds then to bed.

    January 24th

    The village we were in was called Wansen and we were told that we could rest all day. Made a fire and roasted a few spuds. Supplied with 2 half cups of soup and quarter of bread from field kitchen.

    January 25th

    Wakened at 1 30am and on the road at 3am. Weather was warmer, but walking through the slush more difficult. We passed through Strehlen and later in the day we put up in a barn at Heidersdorf, having walked 30kms. Issued with a cup of soup and a fifth of a loaf. French P.O.Ws said that the Russians were nearer to Sagan than we were.

    January 26th

    Stayed all day, Scrounged some spuds and beans made some stew. Issued with two half cups of soup from field kitchen and a seventh of a block of margarine. I went to bed.

    January 27th

    Awoke at 8am and as there was nothing doing stayed in blankets until 10am. Issued with half a loaf of bread to last two days. Started marching 11.30am Roads crammed with civilian refugees. Rested in barns after walking 20kms.

    January 28th

    Wakened at 3.30am and on the road at 5am. Walking easier as the snow had hardened. Walked 25kms many of the boys had frost bite in their feet. Arrived at the barns at 1.30pm It was very cold and no fires were allowed, so I went to bed.

    January 29th and 30th

    Stayed in blankets until soup was served. Other rations were seven biscuits, 1oz margarine and one tenth of a tin of bully beef. At 4pm ordered to prepare to move and started off at 5.30pm.

    A blizzard was blowing and at times walking was tough as the snow was two to three feet thick. Transport littered the roads, stuck in drifts, and in the dark we had to walk single file to get round them. Reached our barns at 4am We had walked 21kms and Gerry tried to crowd us into two small barns. Then they opened up a small loft. It was 7am when I crawled into my bed. A tragedy hit when I had to go outside for two minutes and someone stole my blankets.

    January 31st

    Woke up about 7.30 but stayed in bed untill about 11. Roasted a few spuds I had scrounged from a Polish girl, and made a brew of tea. Gerry made us parade while he counted us, after which we marched to Goldberg where we would get transport ration from the field kitchen: half a cup of rolled oats, a little coffee, tenth of a block of marg., and a small piece of bread. The weather was much colder, I cooked my oats and went to bed.

    February 1st

    Awakened at 6am on the road by 8am. The roads were clearer of refugees. It had rained during the night, melted the snow, and there were puddles everywhere. We stopped at some barns about 8kms from Goldberg. There was little room in the barn. I slept at a cowshed further down the road, after fencing off the cows and spreading straw over the dried cowdung. Gerry rations two fifths of a loaf, half ounce of marg. and half a cup of oats.

    February 2nd

    Awakened by chaps getting water. Cooked more oats and a couple of spuds. Cows escaped and so we turned them outside.

    February 3rd

    Woke up fairly late, finished off my oats and drew half a cup of barley from field kitchen. Gerry issued rations half a loaf and a quarter of a pound of marg. to last three days. Let the cows out just after dark.

    February 4th

    Had to get up at 8am to let the cows back in. Ate some bread and a cup of soup. Went to bed at 11pm.

    February 5th

    Cows broke loose at 2am and trampled all over our beds. We managed to get them out, but we were awakened at 4am and we were on the road at 6am. Arrived at Goldbery about 9am and were loaded into railway box cars which were thirty feet long and eight feet wide, thirty six men to a truck. There was not enough room for all to even sit down so we took it in turns. Travelled about 100kms and stayed the night in a siding.

    February 6th

    Train moved off at 6.30am and stopped about every fifteen minutes. Travelled about 100kms finished off my food.

    February 7th

    Hardly slept. Train moved about 5kms during the whole day. Issued with one cup of acorn coffee. Train moved about 25kms during the night.

    February 8th

    Everyone awake very weak and shaky. About 10am the train stoppe and we got out. Walked very slowly about 1.5kms to the camp at Luckenwalde.
    We were given one cigarette each. After which we had a hot shower and a cup of soup and spuds. It was out first food for nearly three days.

    Bankau to Winterfield = 30km
    Winterfield to Karlsruhe = 20km
    Karlsruhe to Pugwitz = 41km
    Pugwitz to Grosser Jewitz = 20km
    Grosser Jewitz to Wansen = 25km
    Wansen to Heidersdorf = 30km
    Heidersdorf to Plaffendorf = 20km
    Paffendorf to Peterswitz = 21km
    Peterswitz to Praunitz = 12km
    Praunitz to Goldberg = 8km

    Total = 227km
    HA96, ecalpald and alieneyes like this.
  2. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    Many thanks for posting this diary, markbuk. If you are interested in far more detail you could do much worse than by reading "Boys at War" by Russell Margerison, himself at Stalag Luft VII and on the march to Luckenwalde.

    By chance, does the diary continue into March and April at Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde?
  3. markbuk

    markbuk Junior Member

    I will be sure to try and get my hands on the book! I'm afraid this is all the diary I have, I could not even say how my grandad came to have the extract. I can only persume that it would be through the Warsaw 44 club.
  4. melhughes74

    melhughes74 Junior Member

    Hi Mark,
    Fanatastic to have another diary report from a PoW - thank you for making this available.
    My interest in Bankau is because of my Dad who was there and because of this I am very interested in Bankau Camp and then also the March. If you look on my profile you can find the now very accurate drawing of the camp as it was built across '44 (if you can't get at it then please just reply to my email add and I'll forward to you
    Regarding the March I have three questions please. Is there more than you included above? Is the table from the diary [at the end], written in the same hand as the main diary entries and is this dated? The last is to ask an enormous favour of you; would it be possible to have a photo copy of the whole diary? Any help you need with this I'll gladly support wther that's cost or even collection.
    Look forward to hearing from you.
  5. melhughes74

    melhughes74 Junior Member

    Hi Paul,
    A happy xmas to you and all your family.
    Just wondering if I can help with your diary - ould you like any help with the copying?
    Kind regards
  6. olivercb

    olivercb Junior Member

    Mel, If I can help in any way re Luft 7 please let me know, as I am currently writing the history of the camp, inc. the evacuation to Stalag IIIA (Luckenwalde). Oliver Clutton-Brock
  7. patty787

    patty787 Junior Member

    Well, I happened on this site strictly by accident but so glad I did. Mark, my Dad was in Stalag Luft 7 and was best friends with Des Mathews whom I had the honour of meeting in person when we were in Yorkshire almost twelve years ago. It was gut-wrenching to hear their personal, first hand accounts of the camp and the march. Both men are now deceased but before he died my Dad wrote his memoirs. Now that I'm registered on the site I'm anxious to look through and add what I can to his recollections.
  8. Michael Aldred

    Michael Aldred Junior Member

    My late father, F/Sgt Cyril 'Jack' Aldred, (Spitfire pilot 274 Sqdn; Detling & Hornchurch), was a prisoner at the camp and took part in the forced march to Luckenwalde. I have his diary of the march which he wrote up after the war from pencil notes on toilet paper. Some of it is quite harrowing. My father was only 20 at the time. I also have his diaries from Stalag 7 & Stalag IIIa, including his excellent drawings of aircraft, amusing cartoons, plans of the camps etc etc.
  9. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    This has all the hallmarks of an excellent thread to come with new members (welcome all) and new documentation.
    If you are unfamiliar with how to post images (eg photos or scans of diaries) there is a thread on the front page with advice about posting images. If you are still unsure send a Private Message to a senior member or a Moderator such as Owen asking for advice.
    Look forward to seeing your posts.
    BTW Michael, I live in Hornchurch and have a great deal of informatioin about the airfield if you are interested.

  10. melhughes74

    melhughes74 Junior Member

    Any news of new diaries, drawings, camp detail etc, always is of great interest. Would it be possible to have sight of any of this and in particular camp drawings and location detail about the March.
  11. John Skinner

    John Skinner Junior Member

    I have found this forum by accident so I trust I have posted this message correctly !

    I have just watched the documentary "Long March to Freedom". It was shown in Australia only in the last few weeks. I'm not sure when it was shown in the UK.

    It prompted me to open my father-in-law's POW diary. His name was Paul DeCroix and he was a pilot in the RAF's Belgian squadron. Sure enough, he was on the march from Stalag Luft 7 west towards Germany. It makes fascinating reading and I will now write it up in fully legible form. His mates in the Stalag were:

    Ken Brant, 106, St Giles Road, Derby
    Glyn (Jimmy) Walsh, 120 Malefont St, Cathays, Cardiff
    Sammy Wild, 13 York Road, Connahsquay, Chester,
    Desmond Warr, 15 Partitt Road, Rotherhithe, London SE16

    If any of these names strike a chord with any forum members please feel free to contact me.

    John Skinner
  12. John Skinner

    John Skinner Junior Member

  13. olivercb

    olivercb Junior Member

    John, As I'm currently writing the history of Stalag Luft VII I would very much like to see what is in your father-in-law's diary if possible please. I see that he was in Barrack 52-10 with Walsh & Wild, two Welshmen. Please feel free to contact me at Oliver Clutton-Brock
  16. My father-in-law was at Stalag Luft VII also, and kept a diary describing the march to Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde.

    I have a website dedicated to him (Robert E. Toomey, RCAF), to RAF Bomber Command and to airmen prisoners of war.
    The website contains images from his diary and scrapbook, such as 'name cards' and drawings of airforce insignia that were signed by fellow prisoners. Wartime Diary of Robert E. Toomey
    canuck and ozzy16 like this.
  17. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    Nice website, Claude. Your father-in-law was that rarest of Canadian birds, an RCAF Flight Engineer.

    Great to see some photos of Gib McElroy I hadn't see before. Great guy who, the last time I checked, was still with us.

    I couldn't help but notice that R196174 Sgt (later F/O J92649) James Mervin Starr is shown as being on No. 429 Squadron and shot down 15 July 1944. He was actually the MU gunner on Lancaster ME613 of No. 101 Squadron, shot down over Holland on 21/22 June 1944. Jim passed away 4 September 1988 in Vancouver.

    Thanks again,

    canuck likes this.
  18. Thanks Dave.

    Yes "Gib" is still with us, and resides at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre in Ottawa. He would be 95 or 96 now.

    Runners will help give veterans' retirement home a lift

    I'll check about Starr. I think the POWs themselves gave Toomey the information while at Stalag 3A and Stalag Luft VII, so it might be a different Jim Starr. Too bad Robert Toomey didn't also ask for their service number.

    The information can be checked by the book by Oliver Clutton-Brock titled " The Long Road: Trials and Tribulations of Airmen Prisoners from Bankau to Berlin, June 1944- May 1945". All prisoners of Stalag Luft VII are listed in that book.
    I'll see if I can get it from the library this week.
  19. Hi Dave:

    There was a Joseph M. Starr who crashed in Lancaster ME613 of 101 Squadron on June 21-22, 1944:

    533809 Flight Sergeant Joseph M. Starr RCAF. POW in Lancaster 1 ME613 SR-M2, 21-2 June 1944 over Weselling, take-off 2314, crashed Drunen, North Brabant, east of Waalwijk, Holland. Four POW, four killed.

    Accident Avro Lancaster Mk I ME613, 22 Jun 1944

    Source: Jewish RAF Special Operators in Radio Counter Measures with 101 Squadron

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