Claude "Danny" Willcox Jones, 1911-1994
The Run Up The Road
Sent in by his daughter, Denise May Chantrey. The author describes the poem thus: This "Story" in rhyme occurred at a place in Northern Germany between Stettin and Danzig, called Grosser Tychow. I believe about the end of June 1944. The story really commences at Stalag Luft 6 at a place near Memel on the Baltic. Luft 6 was at Heydekrug about 12 miles inland. This camp was divided into three large compounds. There were approximately 2,000 R.A.F. in one, 1,800 American Air Corp in another and the third was mixed R.A.F. and American. During the Russian advance this camp was evacuated. Before the prisoner of war left great efforts were made to destroy all articles of food and clothing which might be of use to the enemy. This the Germans strongly resented, and we believe that the following incident was a form of reprisal. There was much bitterness and hatred felt towards our captors for this inhuman demonstration that I did not write this story until over two months after the event; that I might not get a too distorted impression. Now, four years later I do not think the picture is too vividly painted.
They heard the sound of heavy guns vibrating thro' the night,
With anxious hearts they hoped for quick release;
The German armies in the east had long been in full flight,
And hour by hour they feared the sound would cease.
The Deutsches Abwehr had made their plans to move them further back,
To a place of greater safety in the rear.
'Twas touch and go if 'Uncle Joe' would out the railroad track,
And throw the German plans all out of gear.
Well Oer a thousand men had gone to board an early train,
All laden up with fags and clothes and food,
Wearily by eventide, they all returned again,
No transport could be found not even 'Goods'.
The British boys had spent the day in packing all they'd got;
Resolved to leave no useful thing behind,
They knew that whereso'er they went, they would'nt find a lot
Tho' the weight of all their kit would be a bind.
'Twas early morn, soon after dawn, that all prepared to leave,
And headed off in fives to make the check,
Carrying every kind of package that a body could conceive
And every man was loaded to the neck.
There were kit-bags there were sidepacks, contraptions by the score,
For carrying their possession free and light.
For all they knew they'd have to march a dozen miles or more,
And maybe have to draw their belts in tight.
'Twas then they marched to Heydekrug, five kilos, maybe more,
The distance wasn't far but 'twas the heat.
The weight of kit men carried made their backs and shoulders sore
And cobbles stones caused many blistered feet.
They herded into cattle trucks, without the room to lie,
They steamed out of the station after noon,
And travelled down to Memel to the siding by the quay.
Where lay the 'Insterberg' beneath the moon.
As they clambered to the fore and aft, and stowed down in the hold,
Stacking kit-bags by the deck rail as they passed,
The space was spare and men were packed as sheep are in a fold,
With those men standing who went down the last.
Glancing down the foredeck at the seething mass below;
Without an inch of space from stern to stern,
Scrambling up the keel-plates; without a place to go,
As the screws the Baltic waters slowly churned.
Not one among the thousands, that didn't have the fear,
Of a sea or air attack by night or day.
They thought about the folk back home, the ones they held most dear,
But their courage never faltered on the way.
The equipage of the life boats, rafts and life belts kept aboard,
Was quite inadequate for guards and crew.
If the ship should be torpedoed, they would drown without a word
Or thought of being saved and this they knew.
No sympathy, or interest for welfare or good care,
No food had been provided for the trip.
'Twas fortunate the sea was calm, had there been sickness there
Small help could be expected on the ship.
She docked at Schwlnemunde after forty hours afloat
And they thanked their lucky stars to be alive.
They little thought conditions could be worse than on the boat,
Far worse was yet in store ere they arrived.
While waiting in the railway yard, in cattle trucks once more,
The wheezy whine of air-raid sirens blared.
With smoke screens percolating fumes inside the wagon door,
They wondered if again they would be spared.
Warships anchored in the river blazed away their guns;
The bark of flak-ships added to the din,
As allied bombers overhead were battling with the Huns,
They waited for the bombing to begin.
With a sense of great relief they started on their way to camp,
As the locomotive started gaining way.
Huddled round the wagon floor, suffering from cramp,
With their faces tired and strained, and ashen grey.
Discomfort and humiliation hadn't reached the peak
Of what the fate the prisoner ordains
Hunger, cramp and lack of sleep had left the victims weak,
Yet German guards gyved man to man in chains.
Another weary day must pass ere yet they reached the end
Of travelling on the memorable jaunt,
'Twas hoped as soon they reached the camp the Germans would unbend,
But all requests were answered with a taunt.
Lined up on the roadside with their packs upon their backs,
Menaced by Luftwaffe and Marines
Stumbling to the doorway o'er the rutted railroad track,
Soon to learn what warfare really means.
When assembled on the roadside: dejected, drawn and hot,
The sun was at its zenith in the sky,
With only one man lost till now: And that man had been shot,
They waited for the march throats parchy dry.
Four kilos yet to go upon the road with uphill grade,
Armed guards to line the banking all the way,
With bayonets drawn and rifles cocked to start their escapade,
Each German bearing grudges to repay.
'Twas obvious that other men had run the gauntlet here,
What cruelty had been used to force the pace,
What methods had the guards employed to instigate such fear,
And brought upon their name so much disgrace.
Bags and bundles strewed the road, as far as eye could scan,
Police dogs leashed, but straining to be free:
A terroristic run to camp was now to be the plan,
Brutality down to the last degree.
No sympathy was looked for by this tired and thirsty band
'Twas touch and go if they could save their lives.
No chance of intervention was expected in this land
As they waited to begin still tied by gyves.
The horrors of the run were more than human flesh could bear
Wounded men collapsing by the way,
Jabbed with bayonets, torn by dogs; exhausted and aware
'Twould be their death if they should delay.
Guards were shouting, dogs were barking, midst the trundling feet;
Tripping o'er the baggage in the road.
Solemn children watched the torture by the 'Volk Elite'
Whilst men at last recourse, threw down their load.
Not a single cry for mercy came up from the frightened throng,
Tho' men were stabbed and bruised from knee to thigh,
Few only got their kit to Camp a handful who were strong,
And some will carry scars until they die.
No words can paint the picture of the chaos there displayed,
Of the anguish suffered bravely by them all.
A haggard band of 'Kriegies' landed at the Camp dismayed.
The 'Kriegies' once again had lost their haul.
I well might write a sequel to this saga on a 'Krieg'
Of the treatment they received within the 'Wire'
The prisoners wait with patience for the coming of the 'Sieg'
For they've been thro' all the trials that wait the flyer.