In the weeks leading up to Victory in Europe, thousands of prisoners of war were liberated in Germany, having been forced to march many hundreds of miles from camps in Poland.
The story of the Lamsdorf Long March is rarely told but a new web resource has been launched so individual memories can be recorded, including those of the men from Sussex battalions.
Dave Lovell and Ian Bowley have produced an interactive map of the routes taken by many of the POWs on the Long March of January to May 1945.
Dave said: “The maps published today are, we believe, the most accurate ever produced. They demonstrate the supreme effort required to survive and get home.”
Using personal accounts and diary entries, the online map at www.lamsdorflongmarch.com traces each man’s treacherous journey from Poland to Germany in sub-zero temperatures.
As the Russians advanced, 21,867 men from the allied forces were marched from Stalag VIIIB (344) and its associated work camps, where they had already spent up to five years in wretched, cramped conditions enduring hard physical labour on a poor diet and limited medical facilities.
Dave, from Romsey, would like the men, including his father, Arthur Lovell, a private in 7th Battalion the Royal Sussex Regiment, to be remembered as ‘beacons of hope’ during difficult times.
He said: “This is a story of hope, of how an instinct for survival, dogged determination and the support of fellow men helped overcome the most extreme conditions. It is also a story of utter deprivation and unfathomable human resilience.
“My father said very little about these three months of his life but they undoubtedly shaped his life and his beliefs. In making the map, I discovered the harsh reality of his daily routine, his courage and conviction that kept him alive where others fell by the wayside.”
Arthur was taken prisoner on May 20, 1940, at the age of 21. The events leading up to his capture are well described at www.7throyalsussex.org.uk/home.php. For the next five years, he became POW 724.
He left Stalag VIIB in Poland on January 22, 1945, and was marched through Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany until liberated on April 23, 1945.
George Hawkins was a private in 2nd Battalion the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was captured on May 29, 1940, just south of Hazebrouck during the action and the subsequent retreat to Dunkirk. He was reported missing on July 16, 1940, and confirmed as a POW on September 11, 1940. He was sent to Stalag VIIIB, working party E72, the Hohenzollern coalmine in Beuthen.
He was force marched out of the camp on January 23, 1945, and not liberated by the American army until April 29, 1945.
Reginald Burbidge was a gunner in the Sussex Yeomanry. He was captured on May 28, 1940, on the retreat to Dunkirk aged 29. He arrived at Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf on June 21, 1940, and was force marched out on January 18, 1945, and not liberated until April 29, 1945.
Rick Catt, a member of the 75th anniversary commemoration committee, said: “A simple nationally-sponsored memorial recognising them for their sacrifice, and contributions, giving us all a place to remember them in our own way and to provide later generations with a lesson in fortitude would be all I ask. We have this already in Australia.”
For him, the map project not only honours the men of Stalag VIIIB but has also provided greater insight into the life of his father, Noel Catt a sergeant in the Royal Air Force.
He said: “From a very few comments by my father, I’ve been able to establish his approximate route on the march and get a better feeling for what he went through during that period. Like so many other men, the whole period from when he was shot down until he returned home was rarely spoken about and we knew not to ask.”
The map was created using esri story maps with help from Ordnance Survey, where Dave began his career as a surveyor. It enables users to learn more about the build-up to the evacuation of the POW camps, as well as allowing them to watch an interview with one of the survivors.
Visit www.lamsdorflongmarch.com for more information.
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