In the final winter of the Second World War, the borders of the Third Reich are disintegrating as the Allied Armies close in. Orders come from Berlin High Command. The decision has been taken to clear the Prisoner of War camps in the East that lie in the path of liberating forces. Over 30,000 Allied prisoners are to be marched away from liberation and into the heart of a collapsing regime.
This series explores their astonishing journey from training, live combat, the moment of capture and the long years of captivity – many having spent five years behind wire – and the Long March itself.
In stark and candid interviews, the plain speaking veterans who survived tell of their experiences of starvation, brutality and suffering as they are force-marched through the chaos and ruins of a collapsing Nazi Empire. Many would walk over a thousand miles before becoming free men – untold numbers would die.
In the exhilaration of Victory their ordeal would be overlooked.
With the passing of time, it has been forgotten – until now.
Veterans reveal the sometimes, surprising reasons for joining the fighting services prior to the outbreak of war. They tell of training and instruction that was inadequate for the kind of war they were going to fight.
Describing their first ill prepared encounters as they confront enemy armoured columns with handguns, rifles and tactics that belong to a previous war, we experience, through their eyes, their reactions and those around them, including
their Senior Officers. They tell of the reality of combat and how each experienced the misery of capture in a variety of distinct and remarkable situations.
Now captives, they are marched to railheads and loaded into cattle trucks, to experience weeks of suffering. Deprivation, deception, lack of food, unsanitary conditions and guards who shoot to kill, all have to be endured if they are to survive their
next ordeal; to sit out the war behind wire under conditions that will challenge their hopes of eventual liberation.
For them, the war is truly over as they face the long years of captivity.
Ex-Prisoners of War tell of their time in captivity. It is a story of stark contrasts. The everyday existence of inadequate food, unsanitary conditions, monotony and authorised activities that exist alongside the clandestine diversions of tricking their captors. Whether planning escapes,bribing guards, distilling illicit booze or building concealed radios,outwitting the enemy was an end in itself. But these experiences are intensified with their forced involvement in working for the enemy.
The veterans tell of hazardous, life threatening labour in factories, refineries and coalmines and the harshness of the conditions, while others tell of a gentler routine on farms and fields o the community outside the camps.
Hopes are raised as the Allies land in France and begin their advance across Europe. But thoughts of freedom are dashed as the Allied advance slows and stalls, only to be raised again as the Russians push forward in the East. As the artillery of the advancing Russians lights up the sky and the sound of guns are heard in the camps, liberation is imminent. But instead of freedom, a final, sudden, unexpected and agonising ordeal is about to be thrust upon the already weakened prisoners.
The Third Reich is collapsing. After years of captivity, Allied prisoners held in Nazi Germany prepare for eventual
freedom. But the German High Command has other ideas. And the suffering experienced by the POW’s during their long years of captivity will seem insignificant to the ordeal ahead of them.
In the early hours of the bitter winter of January 1945, prisoners are ordered out of their camps, at gunpoint, to begin a march away from liberating forces.
It is the start of the Long March.
Survivors tell harrowing stories of survival, of an aimless journey sleeping in the open, of famine, cruelty and sudden indifferent death. As the story of the full horrors of the Long March are revealed, we heighten the experience by following contemporary RAF cadets, people of the same age as the prisoners, as they recreate the March along one of the routes taken in the harsh winter of 1945. Their March in honour and recognition of the suffering of the veterans provides a poignant
contrast to the anguish of men who see friends dying beside them, fearing for their own lives, desperately enduring all
in the fast fading hope of deliverance.
Along with those who survive, we experience the full horrors of the March, the exhilaration of liberation, homecoming and eventual return to family and the world of a hard won peace. The memories still haunt them to this day.