Friday, August 27, 2010

Tracing Father 1944-1945

I noticed  while looking at recent key word activity for this blog that there has been considerable interest in the prisoner of war maps. For me they have been useful in tracing my father's route through Poland and Germany as a P.O.W.
Some of Dad's Lancaster crew members 426th. Squadron, 1943. From my personal collection.
My father John Arnold Hillman was a P.O.W. from March 1944 to May 1945 at Stalag Luft 6,  Stalag Luft 4, and Stalag Luft 3. Tracing his route from Stalag to Stalag up to his liberation by British troops has been a challenge. Much of the online information is been written by American authors who do not seem to distinguish between Canadians and English. Perhaps to them we are all the same.

Dad’s Lancaster went down during a raid on Stuttgart on the evening of the 15th. March, 1945. He was captured not far from the Swiss border near Tiengen.  From Tiengen  he was taken to a P.O.W. camp in Frankfurt. In an interview for an article in the “London Free Press”(1) Dad remembered Frankfurt:

“Frankfurt was being bombed, While the prisoners were in air raid shelters, a 3,000 pound bomb dropped on the compound Hillman was in, and blew it to smithereens. Gone were most of their clothing and possessions. They were soon outfitted with American clothing and boots through the Red Cross.”(2) From Frankfurt Dad was shipped to Stalag Luft 6.(3)
Library and Archives Canada.

With the approach of the Russian army the P.O.W.’s  were transferred to Stalag Luft 4. One group was sent to the Baltic Port of Memel (now Klaipeda in Lithuania), and boarded steamers to Sinecure (now Swinouiscie in Poland). From there they boarded trains to Stalag Luft 4. Dad remembers what he calls a coal ship so I suspect that there were Canadians included in with the American P.O.W’s that traveled in this manner.(4)
Telegram from the International Red Cross lists John A. Hillman in Stalag Luft 4 in October, 1944. Library and Archives Canada.

From there Dad was in Stalag Luft 3 which was the site of the “Great Escape” portrayed in the 1963 film. To trace Dad’s route from Stalag Luft 3 to the Rhine is iffy. All I can say at this point is that he walked all of it. Apparently the American P.O.W.’s went to Stalag Luft 7A at Moosburg where they were liberated by Patton’s Third Army. Dad’s group: however, seems to have been marched North and West as he was liberated by the British Army near the Rhine.
P.O.W. telegram Dad sent from Stalag Luft 3 to his mother. Unfortunately there is no date or anything written on the inside. They were used to let relatives know that you were alive and well. Library and Archives Canada.

(1) “The London Free Press”, June 6, 1986
(2) Ibid.
(3)There is an interesting web page “G.P.S.- practice-and-fun” on Stalag Luft 6. Stalag Luft 6 was a P.O.W. camp for NCO”s (non-commissioned officers); however Dad clearly remembered that when he arrived his whole crew were there. Since his pilot was an officer I suspect that the Germans did not necessarily follow any NCO only rule.Also a month after his capture Dad was promoted.
(4) In the “Free Press” article Dad remembers being boated to Heldelberg to a new Stalag Luft 6 before he was sent to Stalag Luft 4.

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