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Freedom At Last

Heroes Remember

And when the sound of artillery and aircraft spotting planes started to arrive, we realized that the Russians were fairly close to us. They, in fact, came right up to the river Oder. And then, suddenly, the Germans came to their senses, I guess, and said, "Oh, we've got good hostage material here. We'd better hang on to these guys." And, so, they suddenly came into the camp one day and said, "You have 12 hours and then you're gonna be moved, you're gonna march." And that was in January. Well, the Russians got as far as the river Oder and then they regrouped, and in that interval, we were taken out of the camp with whatever we could carry, and some managed to make very quick sleds that they could pull on the snow. And, as a result of that, the camp was evacuated, totally, and we joined a throng of evacuees that were racing ahead of the Russians, and all the German armour that was busy retreating westward. And, so, they kept us on the road for five days and eventually we got to a railhead. They loaded us into horse cars. There was supposed to be eight horses but, instead, they put in 120 or 150 men. So, we thought, isn't this ironic, we've lasted this long, we've got this far, and now we are going to end up in a railway marshalling yard, and sure as the dickens, we're gonna be bombed by our own aircraft. That'll be the end of us. But, for some miracle, it didn't happen. We got through to a condemned navy camp up near Bremen, and it was condemned because it was so rat-infested and so, such bad shape, but they put extra guards on us. And within about two days, there wasn't a rat in the place that we had very high protein soup for a few days. And we lasted there for a while, but it was kind of depressing because we were right next door to a launch site for the V weapons that were being shipped out to England. And we hadn't realized that they were so advanced, but we could see this rocket lifting up with the warhead on it and we thought, that's the secret weapon that Hitler's been talking about. We've lost the war. Our morale sort of plummeted. And then along in April, early April, the guards came in again and said, "Tomorrow, you move. We're giving you another ten hours, and you'll be on the road." And we said, "Oh no. We know where the British are. They've crossed the Rhine. We're sitting. We're not moving, we're staying right here." The next morning, it wasn't the usual guards. The SS came in with machine guns and said, "Raus, raus." And, so, we said, "Yes, yes. We'll go." So, they marched us across Schleswig Holstein in the last month of the war. It was agreed amongst ourselves that it would be far more judicious if we stayed together as a large group, because there were still SS and Hitler Jugend, young people who were so, still so committed and so crazy and couldn't see that the war was just ending. And so we did. We stuck pretty much together, and it turned out to be actually a very interesting walk across that beautiful part of north Germany. And we were on the road, I guess for three to four weeks and then eventually got up to, close to Stettin on the Baltic. And low and behold, the British overtook us and Montgomery's, Cheshire Regiment actually wheeled in with an armoured car and lifted the top, and this pimply-faced youth got out and said, "You're free!" And, so, they took us back by lorry to Lunenburg Heath where Montgomery had his headquarters and then eventually flew us back to England as well.

Mr. McKiel describes his long forced march and eventual liberation.

George McKiel

Mr. McKiel was born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on May 15, 1924. His mother was a war bride, and his family moved to Devon, England, when he was quite young. Mr. McKiel joined 405 Squadron, Bomber Command in 1943, and was shot down and captured shortly thereafter. He spent 2 years in a Polish prisoner of war (POW) Camp, Stalag Luft 3, where he helped 76 officers escape in the Great Escape. After his liberation, Mr. McKiel returned to Canada and eventually earned a PhD in Cancer Research. These credentials have allowed him to consult on Nursing issues as far away as Australia. Having recently returned to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Mr. McKiel is already involved with seniors' health programs in his community.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
George McKiel
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Bomber Command
Air Force
405 Squadron
Flying Officer
Air Bomber

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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