An inspection of our food supply showed we were running short, so when we entered a village later that evening Shaw went into a little shop to purchase some apples and pears. It was a risky thing to do and the old lady who served him was very inquisitive, but when she was told we were officers on leave from France she asked us to accept the fruit in payment for our bravery.
We only covered thirteen miles that evening and night as our feet were beginning to get really troublesome, but Shaw managed to buy some plasters next day. These covered the blisters making the walking more comfortable. We hid in a very big wood where we were fortunate enough to find a woodcutter’s hut, so spreading leaves thickly on the floor we were sound asleep in no time and slept for eight hours. We awoke as it was getting dark and quickly had a meal before we took to the road again. We only covered ten painful miles that night, Shaw’s feet were getting so bad it was a wonder how he managed to walk at all. However, from the signposts, we found we were only sixteen miles from the frontier, we decided we would do this the next day. Another comfortable hay stack was found, but we were getting excited now and found it difficult to get to sleep, but slumber eventually overcame us.
It was early evening when I awoke but got no reply from Shaw when I spoke to him. A search in the hay disclosed the fact that he had disappeared. Should I wait for him or have a search around? I thought it safer to remain where I was. All kinds of thoughts flashed through my mind, supposing he was hurt somewhere and couldn’t get back, or, worse still, had been captured, in which case I would have to carry on alone. An utter sense of loneliness assailed me, even the thought of prison camp was preferable to this, however, at least I would have the company of my fellow prisoners. I was getting myself into a state of panic and was deciding on making a search when I heard a low whistle on the other side of the haystack and there, to my great relief, was the wanderer himself. Quite casually he told me that he had awoken feeling hungry and decided to go foraging. Calling in to a nearby farm he had explained that he was on leave spending it hiking through Bavaria with a friend. The farmer’s wife had sold him some bread, cold meat and a small pot of jam. She also boiled six eggs and gave him a bag of apples. The food was like manna from heaven, it was the finest we had had for several days and it refreshed and bucked us up considerably.
We were eager to get on having only twelve miles to go to reach the Swiss border and we were keen to get there before dawn. We toiled up a steep hill knowing the other side would lead down into the valley which divided Switzerland and Germany. This hill seemed never ending and matters were not made better when a heavy mist rolled down which quickly wet us through. Eventually we crossed over the crest and thankfully walked down the other side, but the mist got thicker until we could only see the roadside with the greatest difficulty. After groping our way for a couple of miles we heard running water. As both of us needed a drink and Shaw wanted to bathe his feet it was decided to get down to the stream, have some of our remaining food and wait for the mist to lift. We found we were near a bridge and so debated whether to get down to the steam on this side or cross over and find an easier place on the other side, but a decision was made for us when lights were flashed upon us and we were surrounded by soldiers. It was hopeless to think of making a dash for it. An officer, waving his revolver said “Good evening gentlemen, we have been waiting for you. Your two companions arrived an hour ago.”
What an unfortunate end to our adventure and our efforts to regain freedom? What made it more frustrating however, was to learn that we were only four miles from the frontier which, but for the mist, we would have reached that night. So near, yet so far, all our discomforts had been suffered in vain, but, at least, we were still alive to try again. Perhaps next time we would be more fortunate.
We were led off to a village lock-up where our two escapee companions greeted us. The mist had been their undoing also, for trying to discover their whereabouts had roused suspicions which eventually led to their detection and so putting the military on our track. The Germans were very proud for having captured us and, by so doing, had earned them a reward, but they treated us very well.
After a shave and a hot bath, a hot meal was provided, including a bottle of wine. Next morning we were loaded onto a lorry under a very strong escort to return us to Landshut. The commandant informed us that our guard had been given instructions to shoot to kill in the event of any attempted escape. The whole village appeared to have turned out to see us leave and a very good humoured crowd they appeared to be, the Bavarians always appeared friendly to us and didn’t appear to have much relish for the war. When we arrived back in Landshut we were placed in the town’s jail where we were kept for two days before being paraded for a Court Marshal, where a German Colonel informed us that we had broken all camp rules by escaping and would have to be punished severely. Three of us received fourteen days solitary confinement but, for speaking out and saying that escaping was not a crime but a duty, I got an extra seven days. Solitary confinement is a ghastly business, nothing to read, cannot write, in fact there is nothing to help you get out of your misery. Once a day you had an hour’s exercise when you mix with your comrades but cannot speak to them. I passed the time by doing physical exercises. My guard, who having worked in a London restaurant before the war and who spoke English very well, became involved in my daily exercise regime to the extent of suggesting and introducing exercises unknown to me and, very much against regulations, he would join me in my cell, prop his rifle against the wall and join me in my morning work-out. He also got me a pack of cards and a set of draughts which helped pass many a dreary hour. During the twelfth day of my punishment I was taken before the Commandant who informed me that my punishment time had been reduced and that, together with my three other companions, I was to be sent to a camp in the north of Germany.
Early next morning we were taken to the station, where, to our amazement and joy, were other fellows from the camp waiting for us. They told us that after our escape had been discovered all food had been stopped and for two days everyone had been locked in their barracks, baths were stopped and very stringent new rules laid down. From being a reasonably comfortable camp it had become a rather severe prison, but never a complaint did any of our officers utter, no one had grumbled, but just accepted their lot in a truly philosophical manner.
A saloon coach was attached to the local train and we were placed in this, but nobody knew our exact destination. We arrived in Cologne in the late evening, where we were locked up in a cellar beneath the station itself. Fortunately it was warm and well lighted, and eventually a very decent meal was served up to us. During the meal Shaw whispered. “We are going North old boy, going North, compris?” I understood what he was getting at all right, we were approaching another frontier, that of neutral Holland. Shaw had already reconnoitred the carriage and had detected an escape way through the lavatory window. We whispered a plan together well into the night as the slow journey took us further to the north. Mile after mile we went until, at a good sized station, we were shunted into a siding and told we should remain there until the morning. Allowing some time to pass to allow for our guards to be overtaken with slumber we quietly slid open the door into the corridor and made our way to the toilet. With thumping heart we squeezed through the window and felt our feet meet with the running board of the carriage. Jumping down onto the rails we ran along the track but kept tripping over the points of which, there seemed to be hundreds. There were endless lines of goods trucks which we kept ducking beneath until we bumped smack into a railway worker who, immediately started to holler an alarm. Lights switched on and shouting men approached and we were spotted jumping out of an empty truck. We were jumped upon and the last thing I can remember seeing was Shaw going under several lusty Germans. We were unceremoniously marched back to the saloon car, everyone shouting excitedly and clutching on to our clothing and arms and legs in case we made off again.
To be continued