William Marsh’s journey back home…
William finds himself and his work unit isolated from the PoW marches as they were working in a quarry when the PoW evacuations began. They had managed to build a secret radio and knew that the war was coming to an end. They witnessed a March passing but didn’t know what was actually happening. With the German guards (as they knew the way) the work party set off independently to Prague.
After a long journey by foot and train, they arrived at Pardubice. Here they learned that the war was over…
Excerpt from the book
After another night in the carriage, we steamed on until about eleven o’clock the next day and stopped about a hundred yards or so outside the station of a large town. I was standing with my head out of the carriage window looking over the large sidings to the tall buildings of the town when I heard some shrill voices shouting and laughing excitably as a group of pretty young girls jumped down from the station platform and ran along the line to meet the train. They were screaming and some were even crying and, at first, I couldn’t understand what they were saying but then one of the other British prisoners, who also had his head out of a carriage window, shouted: “It’s over, they’re saying the bloody war is over.”
What – I know we all expected it but to be suddenly told was like a hammer blow – I was stunned but managed to shout at the girls: “When, when?” “Today,” they screamed.
My God, it was over, I turned back into the carriage to look at Fred, who just stood there with tears running down his face, I gave him a rough hug. By now all the British were hollering and shouting so I had to really bawl loudly at the girls:
“Where are we – how close to Prague?” “Pardubice,” they chorused. “About one hundred and twenty kilometres.”
“Where are the Americans?” another soldier shouted above the cheering. “Almost in Prague, I think,” was the answer.
It was really good to chat to pretty girls again and especially to hear their laughter as they gave us the momentous news – although, talking and laughing with them reminded me of what I had missed for the last five years and it made me even more desperate to get back to England. It was the seventh of May.
We chatted with the girls for another twenty minutes when, suddenly, with a lurch, the train travelled the last hundred yards and stopped at the main platform of Pardubice station. The station seemed to be full of people and Fred was just about to open the carriage door when we heard a voice booming over the station loudspeakers, first in German and then in English: “All German soldiers must leave the train and surrender to the Czech army – British soldiers stay on the train.”
I hadn’t realised how many British were now on the train as, apart from our group from the quarry, there must have been quite a number already onboard before we joined it and I had also seen more jumping on at the various halts.
The Germans in our carriage, now looking really scared, nodded at us, opened the door and climbed out onto the platform. The officer was the last to leave and he held out his hand to me and, as I shook it, said: “Thank you for your kindness, I would have understood if you had let us starve, thank you.”
They disappeared into the hostile crowd who now shouted and spat at them and I saw the officer trying to protect the girl, who was weeping, covering her face with her hands, we never saw them again.
‘Will the British now please get off the train’, boomed the speakers and we all climbed out of our carriages and stood on the platform waiting to be told what to do next. A large man in the splendid uniform and top hat of a stationmaster’s uniform strode up and welcomed us, in broken English, to Pardubice station. He then asked us to follow him and he led us across the impressive station concourse, out of the main doors and onto a large cobbled square that seemed to be full of people. I was the first prisoner to come out of the station doors after the stationmaster and, as soon as they saw me, the crowd cheered and waved – blimey, I hadn’t expected this, they were treating us as heroes, but I suppose they had been treated so appallingly and we were seen as the first signs of liberation from the Nazis.