The Long March

This photographic journey began 70 years later to the week of 28th January 1945 covering the route my Uncle Douglas and 2,000 fellow POWs, from the infamous North Compound of Stalag Luft III (location of The Wooden Horse escape October 1943 and The Great Escape March 1944), took on The Long March from Sagan to Lubeck. where they reached their point of liberation 3 months later. What elements from 1945 have remained for me as I walked in their footsteps? What has changed? The extreme sub zero temperatures of that 1945 winter could not be replicated by mother nature 70 years later. Travelling the route of The Long March would let me get as close to the Uncle I sadly never met.

The march from Stalag Luft III in Silesia began on 28th January 1945. The march was in three stages. The first by foot, when over 10,000 prisoners from all five Stalag Luft compounds were force-marched west along icy roads for around 100km from the prison camp in Poland to Spremberg railway station, in eastern Germany. This leg took approxamately six-and-a-half days (times varied according to where in the column each group was) with the initial destination of Spremberg reached in the afternoon of 2nd February. It would seem that, because Sagan station was not connected to the main German rail network, the prisoners had to trek west in order to access a railhead linked to the Reich system which could transport them north-east.

The second stage was travelled by rail in battered cattle trucks. These contained more then 40 men each rolling out of Spremberg at around 23.00 hrs on the 2nd February, finishing their journey at around 16.30 hrs on 4th February, after between 41 and 48 hours travelling; (estimates vary, some groups arriving later than others). The trip had taken place in appallingly unsanitary conditions, the only hygiene facility being a bucket in the centre of each wagon. The total distance covered was around 620km. This was to Tarmstadt and Westertimke reaching Marlag und Milag Nord naval POW camp, 96 km north of Hannover.

The third stage was back on foot from Camp Marlag und Nord, Westertimke, covering another 400 kms on foot through Hamburg up to, for my Uncle's group, the small village of Trenthorst 10km outside Lubeck. It was at midday 2nd May 1945 that they were liberated in Trenthorst...just 6 days before VE Day.

Four images from this selection were shortlisted for The Royal Photographic Society's International Photography 160th Exhibition in London 2017.