Per Ardua Eagle 2020 Update
I have returned from a successful visit to Poland to commemorate the Long March from Stalag Luft 3, Zagan to Spremberg (80km NE Dresden). The Royal Air Force looked after me with mobile caterers to feed us, medics to look after feet, RAF Police and Regiment to keep us safe and young airmen to keep us amused.
The group of RAF personnel and I flew out to Berlin on Thursday 13 February and before going by coach to Zagan. We visited the Military Cemetery in Berlin. There, I laid a wreath for the RAF’s ex-Prisoners of War Association on the central memorial. Small poppy crosses were laid by other members of our group on 20 individual graves. One of those was for Sgt Stan Chalklin buried with 5 other members of his crew. Coincidentally, Brian Chalklin (Stan’s great nephew) and his wife Lynne Chalklin visited the centre a couple of weeks before the trip, we found him on the walls and then I offered to visit Stan’s grave and sent them a photo.
Later in the afternoon we left Berlin for the Willa Park Hotel in Zagan for two nights while visiting the Stalag Luft 3 Museum. Part of the events that day were discussion periods where the RAF personnel had previously researched some topics relating to PoWs to introduce the topics.
At lunchtime all 49 personnel were on parade in the centre of Zagan for a commemoration event marking the Long March. The RAF contingent joined Polish army units, a Polish military band and some Polish veterans with UN service who were presented with medals. There were many local people and school children attending, despite the light drizzle. Wg Cdr Suzanne Senior laid a wreath on behalf of the RAF and I laid one on behalf of the Polish Airmen’s Association UK at the memorial wall in the town square.
On Saturday morning we assembled at the Stalag Luft 3 museum for a short Service of Remembrance before starting our 3-day march of 60 miles on the route taken by the PoWs in Jan 1945 from Stalag Luft 3 to Spremberg via Ilowa, Gozdnica, Lipna (night stop in the Barns), Przewoz , Leknica and over the border to Bad Muskau (nightstop in the sporthalle).
The final day marching started in Bad Muskau, on to Gablenz, Schleife, and finished at the railway station in Spremberg where the WW2 PoWs were loaded on to cattle trucks. This was where our march finished. We held a short remembrance service here during which Gp Cspt Mark Smith laid an RAF wreath and I laid one on behalf of the RAFs ex-PoW Association. We then took a coach ride back into Poland to Kliczkow Castle for a formal dinner. This was the first time some of the RAF personnel had experienced a formal occasion, at least three of them had been in the RAF for less than 6 months, and one man celebrated his 19 birthday!
Despite many blisters and aching legs everyone was able to celebrate our achievement, whilst calling to mind those who had suffered so terribly in 1945.
On Tuesday morning we then returned to Berlin for our flight home.
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