Spectrum 513 and Spectrum 514. The last march
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A two-part Spectrum documentary.
Bert Alley recalls the last months of World War II which he experienced as a prisoner of war. Bert was captured by the German at Sidi Rezegh in December 1941.
In January 1945, Bert and fellow POWs began a 900km march from the German-Polish border to Austria.
He speaks first about the relatively relaxed conditions in the work camp he spent much of the war in, with British soldiers who had been captured at Dunkirk. In return for working for the Germans, the prisoners were allowed out of the camp and some even had local girlfriends.
But as the Russian Army approached towards the end of the war, the local German population were terrified. Mothers pleaded with the Allied prisoners to take their daughters as girlfriends, to protect them when the Russians arrived.
The German authorities decided to march the prisoners away from the approaching fighting, at night through the snow-covered countryside. He was in a group of about 300. They considered running away but were told there were Gestapo in the area who would shoot them on sight. There was a commander who hated all "Englishmen" and would make them stand out in the snow at night for hours for no reason.
They had rations of 2 potatoes a day and a piece of black bread. On their way south they saw emaciated corpses lying in the snow, prisoners from Auschwitz who were also being marched south. He says they were horrified that the Germans, who had treated them relatively well, could be so brutal. They also saw trains full of Jewish prisoners being taken to concentration camps, but when they questioned their German guards about them, they denied knowing anything about their fate.
He compares the terrible rations the Germans and Italians provided with the military rations provided to prisoners in Allied camps.
Once they got to Bohemia the local people, who were very pro-British, would bring them food.
He recalls a conversation with a German who could not understand why a New Zealander would come so far from the other side of the world to fight Germans.
In April 1945, they were near Nuremburg. American planes would fly over dropping leaflets urging the Germans to surrender. He recalls a conversation he had with an SS officer who spoke perfect English and had met Jack Lovelock at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
On May 1 1945 they saw an American tank crew, which eventually made its way to them, and they were liberated. They reported a German commandant who had shot two Canadian prisoners in cold blood, as a war criminal and he was tried and executed.
Bert says they had wondered if they would be liberated by the Russians and were very pleased it was the Americans instead. The freed prisoners were turned loose in a village near the Austrian border to find a bed for the night. He was spotted by a German deserter who tried to surrender to him.
They heard Winston Churchill's victory speech on the radio and knew the war was over. The Americans took them to Munich and from there they eventually flew to England and finally he shipped home to New Zealand.
Part 2 begins at 26m50s
Reference number 18372
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Alley, Bert, Interviewee
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Producer