Survivor of the Long March: Five Years as a PoW 1940-1945

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Satisfaction guaranteed! See details. Buy It Now. Add to cart. Be the first to write a review About this product. About this product Product Information Nothing prepares a man for war and Private Charles Waite, of the Queen s Royal Regiment, was ill prepared when his convoy took a wrong turn near Abbeville and met German soldiers and half a dozen tanks. Charles writes about his five lost years: the terrible things he saw and suffered. His story includes the terrible Long March, when 80, British POWs were forced to trek miles through a vicious winter. Thousands died. There are no memoirs of that terrible trek except this one.

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Permanent Record by Edward Snowden , Hardcover 1. They were made from lovely soft leather and I had been saving them — goodness knows what for. Luckily, I put them on before leaving camp. I threw the old pair away soon after as I couldn't carry any extra weight. I remember I was wearing the leather belt a fellow inmate had made me out of the tops of discarded army boots. I had to keep pulling it in a few notches to keep my trousers from falling down, as I got thinner and thinner over the four months on the road.

We marched 10km, 20km, even 42km one day, whatever our German guards decided and the conditions dictated before finding somewhere for the night. Maybe some stables, a bombed-out factory or under a hedge. Sometimes we stopped for a few days to clear railway lines and bomb sites. More hard work, with little to eat or drink. Our stomachs hurt from hunger all the time.

We were living on raw turnips, a handful of dock leaves, potatoes picked out from pig slurry, fish heads found in a dustbin, anything we could find or steal when the bread ran out. While the snow lasted we sucked handfuls to quench our thirst. When it thawed we looked out for a village pump, drank ditch water or did without. How is one human capable of doing this to another? Hadn't we suffered enough as prisoners of war, forced to work all those years in dreadful conditions for nothing but watery soup, a crust of bread and a bed in a cowshed?

Hating what we had to do, and powerless to do anything except obey orders; and afraid all the time of what might happen next. Keep your mouth shut, your head down and pray to get through it all and see your loved ones again. At last we were on the move, heading west, we hoped, no idea of the route or the distance that lay ahead. We must have walked something like km during those four months on the road before being rescued by the Americans and flown back to England.

From East Prussia, north along the Baltic Coast, across Germany, huge empty landscapes and bombed-out towns, sometimes going in circles and coming back to where we started. Across the frozen river Elbe, south and then north, finally to Berlin. No plan and no preparation for our evacuation. We left early one morning.

The March (1945)

The Russians were advancing so we had them to worry about them as well as the Germans and the Allied bombers above our heads. We were caught in the middle of it all. Nobody cared about us. We were still the abandoned, the left behind, the forgotten. I felt the same sense of fear and loneliness as I did on my surrender to the German Army five years before. But I survived. Many did not. Men died of cold, exhaustion and starvation on The Long March. I remember helping to bury fellow men in shallow graves, those desperate enough to eat the black biscuits we found in an overturned railway truck and then died a horrible death.

When I got back I couldn't tell anybody about what had happened during my years of labour in the camp. I was ashamed. I hadn't done any valuable war work or won any medals; I had no stories to tell of brave deeds; I just did my time.

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How could I be proud of breaking rocks in a quarry 12 hours day or walking along miles and miles of rows of cabbages growing in muddy or frozen ground, cutting them off their stalks while watched by armed guards? Would my family have wanted to hear that I had seen a man beaten to death or a woman shot in the head while her baby was kicked along a railway line?

They wouldn't have believed me and, anyway, everybody wanted to forget the war and get on with rebuilding their lives. So I kept silent about all this for nearly seventy years. I know I am one of the lucky ones. I have always thought that throughout my life. Why didn't I die when we were under German attack on that road near Abbeville or as a prisoner of war under sentence of death for Incitement to Mutiny? Why didn't I simply lie down one night in the snow during the Long March and never get up again? Was it just luck? Would life have been different if I hadn't passed my driving test at seventeen and there hadn't been a shortage of drivers in the Army?

Would I have been fighting on the beaches of Dunkirk? I know that if I had reached there on that day in , I wouldn't be here now.

I am absolutely certain I would have been shot to pieces or drowned. It was a hot summer but we were wearing our heavy army greatcoats and big boots and had our rifles to carry.

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I never learned to swim so I would have just gone under the water and never have come up again. So I was lucky not to be near the place. There were of our own troops killed, not counting the Belgian and French soldiers. A hell of a lot of people died in that area alone and this was just the beginning of it all. Nothing can really prepare you for something like this.

When I think of it now, there must have been something about me, and how I was brought up, that made me a survivor. More than just luck, perhaps. My name is Charles Henry Waite, Charlie to family and friends, Chas to army pals — although only one of them is still alive. I was born in , still in the shadow of the First World War, and named after my uncle. He was my mother's younger brother, a corporal in the Royal Horse Guards, killed in action in May We had a big framed photograph of him hanging in the kitchen in our small terraced house in Harpour Road in Barking, Essex.

Uncle Charles looked grand in his smart uniform, holding his plumed hat in his hand, staring down at us as we sat at the kitchen table. There were nine children and I was the youngest but one. When I was born Alfred, the eldest, was nearly thirteen, Marjorie, ten, Reginald, eight, Doris nearly seven, Leonard five, Winifred, four, and Muriel, nearly two. So by the time I came along my parents, William and Alice, already had their hands full with the other children as well as working to pay the rent and put food on the table.

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They had married young and family responsibilities followed quickly with the arrival of us lot. Life was hard and finding and keeping a job wasn't always easy for my father. He worked for a local grocer but later, when he lost his job, became a bookie's runner. He wasn't unkind to any of us but he was never really close. With a large family and work problems he didn't take an awful lot of interest in me, and my mother just left me to get on with things too. She had a lot of extra work when Elsie was born in July , because she needed special care. Elsie suffered from a condition known as St Vitus' Dance which meant she had fits and couldn't stop her arms and legs from jerking about. She didn't go to school and the symptoms disappeared when she was about fourteen.