Fort XIII (Wild, David. Prisoners of hope. 1992. London)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Across Poland on Father's footsteps

Trip with Tony and Mirek was very fascinating and demanding for us. They really suprised us because of  their determination and desire for knowledge. Below we're presenting you some memories from their trip. 

Pavel began with a fascinating presentation detailing the history of Torun and an account of how it became such a centre for the "Stalags" during the Second Word War.  I hadn't realised that many of the camps began with the utilisation of 19th Century Prussian Forts.
Our journey with Pavel began in the town of Torun where we stopped to view what must have been the very first view my father must have had of Torun where the railways converged. He explained that with typical German efficiency upwards of several thousand prisoners were processed here before being distributed to other camps around the town. The suffering of these prisoners who travelled in these rail wagons with little sanitation was a sobering thought.
Old Railway Statation
What followed was an intriguing tour of the town and the various exhibits and remains to be seen. Being taken on a guided tour of one of the forts which has been turned into a museum really helped give us perspective on what prison life could have been like. I'll always remember carrying a lighted torch along many metres of dark tunnels feeling like I was on a real voyage of exploration. It was easy to appreciate the clever design of the fort as an effective defensive installation.

Pavel took us to see where the administrative headquarters of the camps was established. The highlight was visiting Fort 11 where Pavel explained that some of my father's regiment, the South West Kent's were placed. Unfortunately we were unable to gain access so I managed to climb the bank and creep for a short distance along the wall and got a photo of the side of the fort. Pavel had already shown us some of the famous graffiti by POWs written and drawn on the interior walls. My favourite was a simple scratched message " Let me out you bastards! " which I thought succinct and to the point. Maybe a moment of levity in an existence that must have been incredibly harrowing. We loved the views of Torun from the river and the visit to the Soviet cemetary was a salutary reminder that the treatment of POWs  varied from poor to completely inhumane. 
Soviet Cemetery

Toruń from the riverside
The following morning saw a trip to see the museum created by a friend of Pavel, Piotr, like us a teacher. Housed in the basement of his school there were several rooms in which a huge number of artefacts had been collated and exhibited. Even including personal accounts submitted by many visitors and people in contact form overseas. We loved looking through these slices of life from the POW existence. Piotr proved an intensely interesting and passionate guide. The display also helped us to consider the history of the Soviet prisoners and the partisans.  We followed this absorbing morning with a lunch with Piotr sampling a wide range of Polish cuisine. 
Artefacts in Museum.
The afternoon saw us travelling with Pavel up to Malbork about 150 kms in the direction of Gdansk. Here there were two memorials to see commemorating Stalag XXB.

The journey back to Torun was a thoughtful one. I had been struck by the tranquillity of the camp's location but also the fragility of life within them. Why had my father survived and others had not?
Stalag XX B Cemetery

Stalag XX B Cemetery
We both felt that Pavel was a fascinating and knowledgeable guide who had added so much to our trip taking us to places which we would never have found and given us the opportunity to gain an insight into the life of a POW which for me filled in a huge gap which my father had been so secretive about. I now marvel at his resilence and fortitude. I wish I could have appreciated that so much earlier in life than now many years after his death. What a rewarding experience.

Many thanks Pavel and Piotr.  I hope we can remain in touch. 


  1. I feel that I need to make this journey myself after reading the above. This was clearly a harrowing chapter in my Dad's life. Thanks for this Tony and for all the research you did on Dad's life as a POW. What a journey it must have been for you.

  2. Thank you for comment. It's great that POW relatives decided to visit Stalag places. For us it's a greate opporutnity for knowledge which wasn't wirtten in books.