Arthur Burkett – The Long March
Epilogue by Linda Burkett.
This is from the larger note book, as Arthur was writing his story from the smaller diaries, but sadly he never finished.
Arthur died in 1971, aged 53years old.
This is his story and I want it to be remembered, and all the men went through.
His son, Alan, remembered that even years later, if he ever left the dinner table to answer the door or phone, out of habit and years of starvation, he would take his meal with him.
Its also ironic with all the references to trying to get cigarettes, Arthur died from lung cancer.
Copyright Linda Burkett
Our Daily Bread
Although it was already nearly dawn, sleep was never more distant from my mind. Every time I dozed the distant low rumble of heavy artillery reminded me that the Russians were getting closer to the small Komando Stalag Within whose barbed I was confined. I had been a prisoner of war in Germany for two years since I had been handed over from an Italian Campo Concentramento in answer to the Germans demand to Italy for technical prisoners of war. In the first few months of captivity I spent almost every night dreaming of my liberation and my return home but soon my daydreaming had become nothing but a mockery and when the months grew into years, one found it was better not to lets one mind dwell on thoughts of home. Our camp or Lager was situated in Ober-Silesia and was a small working party, the same as hundreds of others built on any piece of open land in the vicinity of the place where the prisoners were employed contained some seven hundred men.
Six months previously the Russians advanced on Ober-Silesia had been held up about 80 kilometres away, but a week or so ago they had started another offensive and were rapidly advancing again. Most of the news we received was rumours created by excited men who grasped at any little hope that suggested itself and consequently one heard tales all day of the Russians spearhead appearing suddenly in every village.
Whilst hoping with all my heart that these tales were true, I disbelieve everyone but when I had snuggled down in the warmth of the blankets that night and close my eyes, a distant vibration has suddenly brought me the wakefulness and as I remember the sound of artillery I realised that there was some truth in these tales and the Russians were indeed within 25 miles of us. As the night wore slowly on I noticed the noise change from a continuous rumbling into a staccato banging and soon after one could distinguish the explosion from each shell.
When I finally fell asleep as dawn was breaking I judged the Russians would reach our lager sometime during the following day. I thought I would be free within 24hours. How I mis-judged those German’s ! Little did I realise that approaching was one of the greatest trials we should ever hope to face. A fight, not just for our freedom, but a fight to exist awaiting conditions that must be experienced to be believed, imagination can only produce a poor substitute.
Chapter one ‘We move off ‘
Before we received the order to prepare to march from the stalag, we were packing our few belongings together in kitbags, homemade rucksacks and wooden boxes and dismantling our beds to make sleds. The order were to leave at 4.30pm but everyone was packed and waiting the order to march at noon. Unable to sit down or keep still with excitement, I wandered over to the barbed wire and joined in the group that stood watching the streams of refugees pouring down the road.
First a wagon pulled by a half starved horse and carrying a shabbily dressed old woman and few belongings made up in bundles and a little fodder for the horse.
A boy of perhaps 12 years walked alongside, holding on the iron bar that supported the side of the wagon. Then followed two German officers, on horseback, and soldiers, some walking, some on bicycles or carts, all, like the civilians fleeing from the sounds of the battles raging behind them. Everyone, with the same weary look on their faces.
Periodically a dull boom would be heard followed by the scream of a shell and the crash as it exploded. Watching the refugees got little boring after a while and I wandered back again to or living hut, to find that rations were being drawn and mine had been drawn by my friend Jimmy Canning. The rations consisted of 8 loaves, a block of margarine weighing a kilogram and a tin of stewed meat between us. On top of this we were issued with a Red Cross parcel between us.
We packed as much food as we could into our rucksacks, and made the remainder into a parcel. We then rolled our blankets bandolier fashion and after taking a last look around the room that had been our home for the past years and walked outside ready for what might come.
The seven hundred men that comprised our camp population were all ready, some had sleds but for the most part the carried their kit. The gates .were opened and after shaking hands and wishing good luck to a few men, about a dozen or so, that were excused by the Germans from marching owing to wounds, bad feet, and heavily chilblain feet who were left behind without any guards, to be picked up by the advancing Russians forces, we left the camp.
About 200 yards away we were again stopped and the postens counted us once more. Our Sergeant Major gave us a short speech that most of us paid little attention about remembering we were British and helping fallen comrades, although why anyone should fall we couldn’t understand as everyone of us were in fairly good health considering the length of captivity and we had each enough food for a week if we controlled our appetites.
Someone at the end of the column shouted ‘Lets get moving’ followed by several murmurs of approval and taking the suggestion to form, gave us ‘quick march.’ There followed a lot of shuffling but finally we got going, although the pace was almost a funeral march.
We reached the main road about a mile from the camp and after waiting for a break in the stream of refugees big enough to allow one column to enter, we shuffled off once more. The shuffling continued for three more miles and the sun had long since set by the time we reached the fabric (factory) we had worked at day and day out for so long, but the moon had risen and gave us a ghostly effect to the buildings that had been the target of hundreds of American 4 engine bombers that had given us more than we thought our fair share of excitement recently.
That was our last view of I.G.Farbenyn-dustrie (chemical company) that we saw. Soon afterwards we left the traffic-jammed main road for a farm track and as this road was devoid of any traffic, the shuffling gave place to a more or less measured march and the miles began to slip behind. We were really on the move. …………………..