My Dad’s End of the War
On Saturday April 14th the gunfire from the west slowly moved towards Colditz. Colonel Todd was told that the camp was to be evacuated but he flatly refused. The Germans conceded but held the colonel responsible for any casualties as the result of the shelling or bombing by the Americans.
On Sunday 15th April everyone was at upper windows looking for the approaching army. Suddenly a shell hit the guardroom near the main gate. The castle made a good target, standing high on the skyline and dominating all the surrounding buildings and countryside. Another shell hit Wing Commander Bader’s window. The room was empty.
We saw the Germans attempting to blow up the bridge over the river which the GIs would have to cross. Later a tank approached over the bridge and the Germans held up their arms in surrender. White flags appeared at all the windows of the surrounding buildings. Freedom was nigh!
Soon American infantry entered Colditz. They were kissed by the French and had hands shaken by the British. They informed us that earlier they had instructions to raze Colditz to the ground and it was only because someone had the foresight to put Allied flags out that saved it.
It was a day to remember. Freedom after 2 ½ years. For some it was since Dunkirk. The Yanks gave us food and real coffee.
Arrangements had to be made to move us and it was made difficult because the war was not yet over. In the meantime I, amongst others, went down to the village. I met and embraced a 16-year-old polish girl. The first female I’d seen for many a long day. She had been forced to work as a maid for a German general since the age of 14. She was extremely pretty and I spent an ecstatic few hours with her.
While waiting for the transport to move us I ambled around the camp and was shown the glider which was being made by two RAF officers. It was situated in a camouflaged room in the attic under the roof. It was made out of wooden bed posts and sheets. The idea was to knock a hole in the roof, put it together and glide off far enough to get over the river. The Americans were most impressed. So was I.
Our convoy took us through a forest and suddenly we stopped as apparently there was fear of an ambush. A patrol was sent forward to search things out but fortunately it was a false alarm.
We passed by Leipzig, which was being sheltered by our forces. The enemy were still holding out. We came under a bit of shelling ourselves and were glad to see the back of that episode.
Eventually we reached an aerodrome, which I think was somewhere in France. We were to fly home in a Dakota. Before I boarded the plane I was stopped by an American soldier who said that I wasn’t allowed to take the German pistol that I had pinched from Colditz as a memento. He said he would give me a bottle of Scotch for it. I was only too pleased to make the swap.
We sat on the floor of the Dakota. We took off and it was hard to believe that we were on the way home. The plane rattled and vibrated. It was the first time that I had flown and I prayed that it would make it because it sounded to me as if the engine was about clapped out.
We crossed the English Channel and there before our very eyes we saw the white cliffs of Dover. Men cried and all of us were speechless with emotion. It was some time before anyone spoke. We embraced each other.