Neubrandenburg - Russians Arrive - Liberated
Sunday April 29th. Early in the morning a great shout went up some where, “The Russians are here!” and true enough they came in the gate and were met by our Officers. Everyone was going mad and cheering. This was our first day of liberation and for the first time in five years we were free from German rule. It was a wonderful feeling, and we welcomed the Russians, but what a rough looking lot they were. They all had slant eyes of the Mongolian type and were armed to the teeth. They also had women with them, but they looked more like men than women, with nothing at all feminine about them. They left soon after and didn’t seem to have much time for us.
We put our flags up at the gates (I don’t know where they came from) American, French, Dutch, Belgian and Italian, but we tore the Italian one down. Later on in the morning several men came running into the huts shouting, “Come on the bloody Eyties are ransacking the Red Cross stores!” Out we poured, arming ourselves with anything we could get hold of, and ran down to the stores which were just outside the camp. We had quite a fierce battle with them for a while but soon got them out and back to their own quarters. The Americans and British then organised a guard over the stores but a lot had gone missing. That didn’t help our relations with the Italians. We all disliked them and I’ve never liked them since.
Harry and I went on the scrounge to see what we could find in the German quarters but we were too late. Already a lot of men were there and some had had some good finds for souvenirs. I was lucky to find a bayonet with the Feldwebel ribbon on it but there was nothing else worth taking. A Felwebel is the equivalent to our N.C.O.
May 3rd. Four of us went into Burg Stagard, a small village about three miles from the camp, to see what we could find. It was also a chance to take a walk on our own free of guards. It was so good to be free of restraint and interference and to stop when we wanted to. The village was deserted apart from some Russians. We did find a little food, some cheese and bacon, but not much. We went into one house that we thought was empty, went upstairs and found a very old German woman. She was scared stiff and told us that she was too weak to go away and that she had nobody. She also said that the Russians had been pestering her. There was nothing we could do so we left her some food and went on our way. The Russians didn’t bother us but they didn’t look particularly friendly either, so we didn’t try to be friendly with them either. They were a really rough looking lot.
The next two days we did the same, just taking a walk. Each day we went to see the old lady but on the third day she had gone and we didn’t find out what had happened to her. The Russians took no notice of us at all in the Stalag. We had run out of food for our usual stews and they didn’t organise anything for us. We were just living off the last of the Red Cross parcels.
On the 6th of May we were ordered by the Camp Officer not to go far outside the camp as the Russians were giving our boys trouble. I didn’t see it myself but apparently, on the road to Burg Stagard the day before, they stopped a lot of our boys, pushed them around and stole all their loose belongings. Harry and I had come back early and I think it must have been after that when it all happened.
May 8th. We all gathered in the Dutch compound as they had a wireless set and had fitted up loudspeakers. Winston Churchill was going to make a speech at 3:00 pm. In it he said that the war was over and the Germans had surrendered unconditionally. There was cheering and singing and we all went wild. We thought thank God, we will soon be able to go home now, but we hadn’t reckoned on the attitude of the Russians who still didn’t take the slightest interest in us; although they did give us a loaf between two men the next day. The same day news came from somewhere that there was a bombed train just outside the camp, in a valley amongst the trees (There were woods on one and a half sides of us.) and that it had a lot of supplies on it. Of course Harry and I wasted no time in making our way there. When we arrived we found the train, all trucks with two hinged lids over the top of each truck and hundreds of men going through it to see what was to be had. All the food had been taken by the Russians but there were three trucks loaded with wine and there was a Russian standing on each one handing out bottles of wine to the men. It started off alright, and then the Russians would only give out the wine to the French, Belgians, Dutch and Italians. The British and Americans were ignored and were getting frustrated. The lids of the trucks were propped up with a baulk of timber and one of our boys knocked the timber away, causing the iron lid to come down right on the Russians head. There was blood everywhere but within seconds there wasn’t a Briton or American in sight, we just disappeared. Harry and I had four bottles between us that we had taken in the confusion and we made a hurried departure back to the camp. We drank the Russians health and wondered if he had a headache! Not that we had any sympathy for him.
On the 11th we had to organise parties to go out into the woods and cut down the British and American men who had been caught by the Russians, while wandering about in there, and they had strung up in the trees. Although, by then, we had been warned by our Officer not to wander about outside in anything but large parties, some men still did and paid the penalty. We had thought the Russians were our allies but now began to think that they didn’t seem to like us very much.
One day while out on a trip to the woods, looking for our men, we came across a German girl. She was absolutely petrified and didn’t have a stitch of clothing on. She was scared stiff of us but we managed to calm her down, covered her up with some of our clothes and gained her confidence. She told us that she had been taken there by several Russians and raped; she didn’t know by how many. We took her back to the camp and fitted her out with fresh clothing, although they were all male ones. The Officers took charge of her and I don’t know what became of her in the end. By this time we were beginning to hate the Russians as much as we did the Germans.
On May the 15th the British and Americans were moved into the German barrack buildings. It was better accommodation; brick built and had rooms that would accommodate fifteen to twenty men. We hadn’t been there long when a fire broke out in our room, although it was soon put out. The Russians, who were giving out a loaf between two at the time, ordered no fires and all stoves to be taken out. We had a big one in our room and we just tipped it out of the window. It went with an almighty crash and the Russians shouted a bit but nothing came of it. We were all getting a bit browned off by now. There was no food left and the Russians weren’t giving hardly any. Our Officers were trying their best but the Russians weren’t listening.
On May the 16th there was great excitement during the morning when four American G.I. jeeps came into the camp. There was a stampede to them and everybody crowded around them cheering. They handed out chewing gum and cigarettes but of course they didn’t have enough for everybody. They took away some of the chaps who were very sick and told us that we would be moving out soon to the American sector. Our hopes rose again, as we were getting very hungry now. All our food parcels had been used up several days previously. The Russians had given us one loaf in two weeks and nothing else at all. We were sorry to see the jeeps go but were buoyed up with the knowledge that we weren’t forgotten, as we had begun to think we had been.
Early in the morning on May the 17th a convoy of Russian trucks pulled up outside our building – we could hardly believe our eyes. They ordered us out and lined us up with our kit and allotted us to trucks. We didn’t need to be told twice to climb aboard. They were taking us to the Americans. They were terrible drivers, closing up, then spreading out, going fast, then slow. We eventually arrived at Schwerin at 12:30 am on the 18th and slept in the Opera House. We still hadn’t had any food given to us but we didn’t mind so much as we knew we would soon be in American hands. I don’t think many slept that night!