Corp. Jack Kidd recalls 1000 Mile March
Late 1944 - Early 1945
In late 1944, as the Russian advanced, the Germans evacuated the prisoner of war camps to prevent the liberation of the prisoners by the Russians. This resulted in more than 80,000 allied prisoners being marched west from Poland through Germany and Czechoslovakia through the first four months of 1945. The winter conditions were extreme and the prisoners poorly clothed and with poor rations. Many did not survive. Variously called "The March", "The long March", The "Back March" and "The Great March West", Jack Kidd remembers it as "The Thousand Mile March".
JACK KIDD'S ACCOUNT OF THE THOUSAND MILE MARCH
In January, 1945 the men started on the long, arduous march to freedom although they didn't realise it at the time. According to the POW Association it was 1,100 miles plus. After about 26 miles of marching, or plodding, really because they were all so exhausted, another Scone lad, Jack Borthwick brought out his fiddle and played some stirring tunes. It really lifted the men's spirits. Where he got the energy to do this Jack doesn't know but it was such a memorable feat that Jack remembers to this day.
At about 10 0' clock one night they set sail for Konitz. Some of the men brought sledges, others walked. They arrived at 8 a.m. in the morning. Jack had been there before in 1943 when they'd been x-rayed for TB. Three men had shown positive, one of whom had been a real friend of Jack's, and they were repatriated.
On the first day they were billeted in a big hall near the station and got a big bowl of soup and a piece of bread for lunch. The second day was the same. All the time men were coming in from other places until the hall was full. On the third day they went back to the station. A small Russian plane flew overhead and they were attacked. It was lucky no one was hurt.
They marched all day until they arrived at a new POW camp. Excitingly, they could hear guns in the distance getting nearer and nearer.
They spent the night there and marched all the next day. They spent the next night in a field. If they got bread one day they got soup the next but many days they got nothing at all.
They marched from the coast of Germany until they arrived at Swinoujscie, a port on the Baltic Sea where they were herded onto a boat. The Germans seemed scared and a rumour spread that they were going to take the boat out to sea and sink it. Panic set in until they saw the guards and officers coming on board. It was only a 5-10 minute journey and Jack had never been so glad to see a journey's end.
After that, near Brandenburg, they started to go south towards the west of Berlin when bombing raids started. Americans bombed during the day and the British bombed at night. During the march quite a few of the lads had dysentery and Jack really felt sorry for them. They'd nothing to clean themselves with. Some just packed in and we'd see them lying at the side of the road. It was terrible. They knew then that they were heading in the right direction but Jack never found out what happened to these lads.
Although by this time it was spring it was still cold so when they were herded into a pig sty for the night they were glad. They were supposed to lie in the passages but the pigs were lying on lovely, clean straw and Jack knew that pigs are clean animals so he chased out a sow, lay in her place and slept like a baby, cosy and comfortable all the more so since it was so cold outside.
They only stayed one night in the pig sty and next morning they set sail again for Halberstadt. The Americans weren't careful where they dropped their bombs so one or two of the men were injured. When they blew up a railway station all the windows in the sports complex the men were sheltering in were shattered. Some boys were cut with splintered glass but no-one was badly injured.
The men were sent down to try to clean up the station but on the way they came across a bread wagon full of bread so they just stuffed themselves. It had been hit so there wasn't a whole loaf there but that didn't matter to Jack and his pals.
The march took a terrible toll of them. Whereas on the first march to Poland the weather had been gorgeous and they were fit and strong, this time it had been freezing and the men were in poor health after years of imprisonment and starvation rations. Many did not survive. One night they slept in a field and at 6 0' clock in the morning Jack was talking to Big Hector. He was fine. By 8 0' clock when he turned to speak to him he was dead. So near and yet so far.
They got on the march again and it turned out to be a very short march! They'd been sleeping in a small when, at 5 a.m., shouted, "Quick! Hurry up!" Each man was given a bigger piece of bread than usual and a piece of sausage. It turned out that German troops were passing by a wooded area nearby. The guards had got the column out of the way to protect themselves and their prisoners: they didn't want to be sent to the front line!
The guards took them a further half mile. All forenoon they sat in a copse with two high ranking German officers and one more junior officer. Shortly afterwards they disappeared. The under officers said to the men, "There's a troupe of soldiers down the road. If they're British you see us all right. If they're German we'll see you all right."
Three quarters of an hour later a jeep came up the road with the wee German and a British and American soldier in front. They'd been liberated! What a cheer went up! They were told, "Make your way half to three quarters of a mile down the road and the village is yours!" Schabeleben was the name of the village. When they arrived tanks were coming through the streets handing out daily rations, including tea and cigars. Jack says that he's seen better dressed tramps as they hadn't washed for days - but they were puffing cigars!
In their accommodation that night they slept on white sheets. Lying naked with white sheets over them - it was marvellous! It was 12th April, 1945, the day President Roosevelt died. Jack couldn't sleep not only because of excitement but because he was up and down all night eating pieces and going back for more!
The next day an American Officer told them that they couldn't get off for a day or two until the lorries came back and they could pile in. Three days later they were sent back to a Red Cross Centre in Hildesheim where they were given soap, towels, razors, tobacco, cigarettes: they could have anything they wanted. There was also a Gerry steel helmet full of chewing gum, one of cigarettes and there was writing paper. You just helped yourself. Jack wrote a letter to his mum which she kept and which he still has. He asked a lad he knew who was going home before him, if he'd post it in the UK. He said, "Certainly!" Jack weighed 6st. l lb at that time and like all POW s his skin was yellow as if he had jaundice.