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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

VI: Forced Marches in 1945

VI: Forced Marches in 1945

As the advance of the Russians in January 1945 brought them speedily nearer Poland and eastern Germany the Germans began to move prisoners of war away westwards from the fighting zone. For men of many camps the journey was made on foot – 12 miles a day – the ground sometimes being covered with snow, and cold barns were the only shelter at night; food was limited as civilians, troops and prisoners competed for what was available in the countryside in the winter but never got sufficient. On entering towns and villages the more active men raced to the head of the marching column and by quick, surreptitious barter, or by pleading with the peasants, were able to add to their rations. Woe betide the chicken that inadvertently crossed the road ahead of the marchers. Even cats or kittens ‘went the way of all flesh’.

Because there were no facilities during the long trek west for the drying of clothing, particularly gloves, socks and boots, many prisoners of war fell victims to frostbite.

Lamsdorf camp was among those evacuated, 9000 being marched off and the remaining 2000 going to central Germany by train. In each of the fifty trucks of a train was a medical orderly who had a German first-aid box.1 A truck was also taken over as a ‘hospital’ and staffed by two medical orderlies and a medical officer. As on other train journeys, the supplies of satisfactory drinking water were totally inadequate. Water had to be obtained from the indifferent sources which offered. Sometimes it was from streams, sometimes from station pumps, sometimes even from the railway engine. It was felt that this last source might have been the cause of the severe diarrhoea which affected the troops in transit. Diarrhoea and dysentery were the most frequent causes of illness and there were some respiratory infections. But those who had to march suffered these infections and frostbite and malnutrition as well.

During the ten-day train journey from Lamsdorf, Silesia, to Hammelburg, northern Bavaria, the rations issued by the Germans were:

1 Contents were: Triangular bandage, 1; first field dressings, 6; small first field dressings, 20; leather finger covers, 3; cotton bandages, 5 cm. wide, 5; cotton bandages, 10 cm. wide, 10; crepe paper bandages, 8 cm. wide, 10; large clothing scissors, 1; strapping, 5 metres × 2.5 cm., 1 roll; safety pins, 10; large burn dressing (Picric acid), 1; boracic ointment, 50 c. cm., 1 tube; zinc ointment, 1 tube; vaseline, 1 tube; sodium bicarbonate tabs., 25; aspirin, 100; Tannalbin tabs., 30; Solventes tabs. (Ammon. Carb.), 100; tincture ‘Sepsos’ (Ersatz Iodine), 2 bottles; anti-rheumatic spirits, 100 grm.; tabs. Atophan (acid phenyl. chinol. carb.), 50.

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21 February Bread: 2000 grammes; margarine 125 gr.
22 February Soup, meat and vegetable.
23 February Nothing.
24 February Nothing.
25 February Nothing.
26 February Nothing.
27 February Bread: 500 gr.; lard 40 gr.; sausage 30 gr.
28 February Nothing.
1 March Nothing.
2 March Arrived Hammelburg, XIIIC.

The weekly German ration scale in Stalag XIIIC, Hammelburg, was:

Meat 220 gr. Sugar 155 gr.
Margarine 135 gr. Coffee 15 gr.
Fat 60 gr. Tea 6 gr.
Nahrmittel 1 190 gr. Jam 155 gr.
Potatoes 2650 gr. Bread 1900 gr.
Vegetables 360 gr. Rye meal 43 gr.

Later in Stalag XIIIC the total amount of food issued per man fell so low that it gave rise to the onset, once more, of famine oedema, even amongst Australian Army Medical Corps orderlies.

After the trek to the west of Germany some prisoners again became infested with lice, probably from the cattle trucks. In Stalag XIIIC there was a good delousing centre, and once again the system of reception huts–delouser–clean barracks was used to good effect.

1 Prepared foodstuffs.