The Shoe Leather Express – A Train Ride to Fallingbostel

(Posted: January 28, 2012)

On Page 22 of “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1 . . . . . .

Our fifty-first day out from Stalag Luft IV was not much different fromn our twenty-first or thirty-first day, except that we had the bitter Baltic winter behind us.  A report that some of our fellow Kriegies had both legs amputated because of gangrene, related to frostbite, was a bitter blow to our morale.  About the only condition that changed for the better was the weather.  Our health was obviously becoming our major concern.  We challenged each day for survival and the infrequent beatings by the guards lessened our chances for survival.  Dysentery had weakened our bodies and spirit; the lack of food was the one thing that slowed down the results of dysentery.  It is a harsh relief from the agonies of dysentery.  The relief was worse than the infection.

We arrived at Ebstorf, a small town west of the Elbe River, at 53 degrees latitude, 10-30 degrees longitude north, on March 28, 1945.  We were loaded on boxcars at 3:00 P.M.; 65 POWs to a boxcar that was designed to accommodate 40 men or 8 horses.  These boxcars were affectionately known as the 40 and 8.  We were jammed into the boxcars and the doors were sealed shut.  The overcrowded condition would not permit all 65 POWs to even sit down at one time.  The sick were allowed to lie down.  This meant that many of us had to remain standing for long periods of time; we alternated between standing and sitting.  Even with these hardships, we felt we were far better off than previously.  We had anticipated riding to our next destinations, not walking.  We finally realized that we were now in a more dangerous situation; we were trapped inside of the boxcars that had not moved for more than ten hours, except for an occasional movement of 100 to 200 yards back and forth.  We were vulnerable to strafing and bombings from our own aircraft, as the boxcars had no markings on them.  The aerial activity in this area was considerable, and any freight movement was a prime target of the allies.  I considered our confinement in the boxcars and the intermittent movement of the boxcars as a diabolic and intentional plan by the German commandant to have us destroyed by our own Air Force.

The conditions inside the boxcars became unbearable and were aggravated by the filth and stench resulting from the POWs who had to urinate and defecate on the boxcar floor.  Fortunately, the boxcar I was in had a broken floor board.  After several hours we were able to establish an opening sufficient to accommodate the dysentery aspect, but the small opening in the floor left a lot to be desired.  Invariably our aim was off; consider 65 POWs with chronic dysentery, in an overcrowded boxcar with bad aim.  To urinate was considerably easier and our aim was far more accurate and the need to urinate was not as frequent as we were denied water that was available nearby.  On March 30, 1945, after forty hours of confinement, we moved out to Fallingbostel; a 30 mile trip.  We were never out of the boxcars until we reached Fallingbostel on March 30, 1945, and then marched to Stalag Luft 357 at Orbke.  “C” column split again here.

The  familiar barbed wire fences and wooden barracks were, to us, an encouraging sight, particularly after our last experience on the boxcars.  As we approached the camps we detected the distinctive odors that are prevalent around Prisoner of War camps, the smell of burning wood and coal.  There’s the odor of dust and, on rainy, days, mud.  We were anxious to get inside the camp as opposed to the anxiety of the POWs inside praying to get out of the camp.

After the first day at Stalag Luft XIB, we realized that there was not much of an improvement from our ordeal as when we were marching.  We were led to a large circus-type tent, where a scattering of hay was placed on the ground, mostly to keep the dust from flying about, and not for bedding as we first thought.

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