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Impossible is nothing

After one year of mailing and conversation on via Inernet we met in Torun. That was wonderful time. It gave us a lot of new knowledge not only about Stalag. Every single trip makes an new relationship, how worthy it it!

My name is Sandra Butterfield and this story is about a trip I took to Torun, Poland with my father-in-law Ray Butterfield and my husband Mark. The trip was as a result of Ray’s love for his father Fredrick Butterfield, and the passion and dedication he had developed towards the 2/5Australian General Hospital in which Fred served.

I never met Fred Butterfield, when I met my husband (Mark) Fred had passed away. But he still lived on in Mark’s memories. In the early days of our marriage on Anzac Day, Mark would go and retrieve a blue ice cream container which was full of military buttons and badges that his Pop (Fred) had brought back from the war and gave to him when he was young. Mark would place this container on the kitchen table and proceed to toast his Pop with a beer. The buttons and badges are now framed and hang on the wall. It was when, some years later that our daughter, Emma who was in grade 2,andleaning about the war,that she started to ask a lot of questions about her Great Grand Father Fredrick, and from those questionsRay’s interest was sparked. Thirteen years later Mark and I are taking Ray over to Torun, Poland to walk through Fort XV where his father was a POW for 2.5 years.

As I said, I didn’t know Fred Butterfield so I did not have an emotional connection to the man. I was going on this trip because we felt it was something that Ray needed to do, so together we arranged for Ray at the age of 81, (sorry Dad for telling everyone your age) and with the help of a fantastic guide Pawel Bukowski,inSeptember 2014 we hopped on a plane and flew to Torun.

On the first day we met our guide Pawel, heshowedus an excellent presentation on the history of the town includingthe Forts which during the war were used as storage areas for the Germans andas POW camps. Pawel’s knowledge and dedication to telling the story of the Australian POW’s was amazing. After the presentation it was time to go to Fort XV. I sensed Ray was starting to get emotional, nervous and a feeling of not believing he was going to go to Fort XV,this was apparent when we pulled up at the front gate of the Fort.

Fort XV is not a camp consisting of a series of building above ground, it is a 2 storey bunker style built into a hill with a moat surrounding the complex. There was one way in and one way out….

The front housed the POW’s accommodation so each room had two windows,but mostly the rest of the buildings wereunderground.

Over the past year or so Ray and Pawel have been corresponding.This is due to Ray’s position 
as Secretary of the 2/5 AGH Association who funded the Exhibition project. 
Ray had sent Pawel some photos which Pop had taken while in the camp. Pawel brought these photos and together all four of us talked, discussed and compared what was in front of us to the photos. Pawel took us into the Fort and armed with the photos we think that Ray at one stage of the tour was standing in the same room his father shared with about 20 odd men for 2.5 years.

The left photo is the room which we think Pop slept in. The other is my favourite –‘a son reflecting on what is father would have been going through living here’.
Fort XV over the years has not been looked after. It is dark, smelly and in some areas is it too dangerousto walk around. The parade ground which was once used by POW’s to hold sport days or just to sit on the hill side and breathe in some fresh air and to see some sunlight, is now over grown but standing there you get this feeling come over you of what the men would have seen. We spent several hours walking around the fort imagining what it was like for the POW’s.Pawel’s knowledge of the fort and the research he had conducted on the Australian POW’s is a story that needs to be told. I started to get this overwhelming feeling of admiration for the POW’s who lived there, and that one of them was SGT Fredrick Butterfield who I said at the beginning of my story, I had no an emotional connection with, but that all changed.

The next place to visit was the Polish Historical-War Museum. The curator and co-founder of the museum Piotr Olecki was excited to meet Ray as he was responsible for the donation ofmany of the items on display for the Australian Exhibition.Some of the items donated were photos Pop has taken while in the camp and an Australian flag. This again this was a very emotional time for Ray, especially when a young school student spoke to him about the photos on the wall. 

The other two days at Torun were filled with Pawel and Hanna (his wife) showing us their beautiful city. We not only enjoyed the slights but we also enjoyed coffee, cakes and a traditional Polish dinner at a fabulous restaurant. I would highly recommend anyone going to Torun, it is like a hidden gem, and if you are interested in following in the footsteps of your father/grandfather who was a POW in Torun then you must contact Pawel as his tours are excellent, but not only that he and his wife are lovely people.

As for my husband Mark, his thoughts on the trip; he said, the trip was an emotional one because I was standing in places that Pop had been. I was very proud of my grandfather, and that I was able to take my father to the Fort and enjoy the experience with him.

And as for my father-in-law RAY’s thoughts, this is what he wrote; In September 2014,my son Mark and his wife Sandra, conspired with Pawel and his wife Hanna to take me to Poland to visit the Forts where the Australian POWs were incarcerated.

The highlight of the trip was when Pawel walked with us on the bridge over the moat and through the heavy steel doors into the tunnels that housed my father and his mates for such a long period of time.And then to actually sit on the window sill of the window that my father probably peered out of for all those years. I then proved “That Grown Men Do Cry”.

This was truly a wonderful experience and I whole heartedly thank and commend Pawel, Hanna, Piotr  for keeping alive the spirit of our Veteran Families.



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