Survivor of the Long March: Five Years As a Pow 1940-1945
Charles Waite, Dee La Vardera
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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 turning near Abbeville and met 400 German soldiers and half a dozen tanks. "The day I was captured, I had a rifle but no ammunition." He lost his freedom that day in may 1940 and didn't regain it until April 1945 when he was rescued by Americans near Berlin, having walked 1,600 km from East Prussia. Silent for seventy years, Charles writes about his five lost years: the terrible things he saw and suffered; his forced work in a stone quarry and on farms; his period in solitary confinement for sabotage; and his long journey home in one of the worst winters on record, across the frozen river Elbe, to Berlin and liberation. His story is also about friendship, of physical and mental resilience and of compassion for everyone who suffered. Part of that story includes the terrible Long March, or Black March, when 80,000 British PoWs were forced to trek...
shock of my life and I finally got the message. You’re a man now and you’re in the army, Charlie. You’re going to have to learn the rules, obey orders and remember your place. I wouldn’t have minded being given a few more orders or at least some guidance. We were ill-prepared for fighting and for what lay ahead. I don’t think that I fired more than five rounds of ammunition before I went over to France. We spent a day, I’m sure it was no more than that, on a firing range on Salisbury Plain.
them. The officer came to my window to speak to me. ‘All right, private, you don’t have to wait. We’re coming back by car tomorrow. Off you go back to base.’ Pony got back in and I reversed in the drive and drove back down to the main road. As we were going along, I said to Pony, ‘Would you take over for a few minutes so I can have a Maconachie?’ You see, I was always hungry and this Maconachie was a brand of beef stew with beans, carrots and potatoes, part of our army rations. I thought it was
in the Highlands of Scotland in 1960, driving with Lily and our son Brian, in our first new car, a Ford Consul, which cost £600. Jimmy wasn’t expecting us and I didn’t know his address exactly but enquired when we got to a village near where I thought he lived. I asked at the post office if they knew him and sure enough I was directed to his cottage nestling in a hillside. Fortunately his wife, Catherine, was home but Jimmy was working up on the hills. She went outside to the back of the house
racket of banging and shouting. It was the guards coming along kicking the cell doors and then calling out ‘Bist du da?’ – are you there? How stupid! Where else would you be? You had to answer ‘Ja’. Apparently there’d been an escape but not from the prison. After I came out I learned that it had been down below, where the prisoners in the main camp had built a series of tunnels. We were supposed to get regular breaks, to go out every morning for half an hour to exercise and get a quick wash in
commentary. He wanted us to know what places we were going over, what altitude we were doing and our ETA. As it was so noisy he told Laurie the information and got him to write it down on bits of paper, which were passed back to us to read. That was good. We cheered when we heard we had just gone over the Romney Marshes and Lydd. I’m afraid Laurie and I were still in our old uniforms (same filth, fleas and lice) and I was scratching, Laurie was scratching and I expect everybody else was,