Long March News

Anniversary of the Long March News

29 Jan

Marching in the Footsteps of Heroes

With their rucksacks packed and bootlaces tightened, over 100 Royal Air Force personnel are preparing to commemorate the 65th anniversary of The Long March, the forced movement of Commonwealth Prisoners of War in 1945 Germany.

Arriving in Zagan, Poland, on Monday 25th January, the team of volunteers from RAF Stations Leeming, Marham and Halton spent their first day getting ready; they face a 60 mile march in the company of 5 RAF veterans with firsthand experience of the hardships of the journey from prison camp Stalag Luft III. Keen to listen to their stories were some of the Service’s newest recruits, several Aircraftsmen still in training at RAF Halton. Simon Marshall, 20, hopes to become an RAF Regiment Gunner after his course.

“The history of the RAF is a key part of our training at the moment, and I wanted to know what it was like for the veterans” he said. “You learn more about yourself doing something like this, and it’s made by the mates that you march with – it going to be hard, but worth it when we get to the end. You really feel like you are following in the footsteps of heroes.”

His Halton colleague Simon Tanner, 23, will go on to be an Aircraft Maintenance Mechanic after trade training. “It’s cold here, but for the last month we have been marching 12 miles a day in the woods at Halton, so I think we should be prepared for it. In any case the RAF is all about camaraderie – the humour and the banter is what keeps you going”.

Also taking part in the march will be 18 Combined Cadet Force and Air Training Corps Cadets, bridging the generations from the oldest veteran of 95 to the youngest participant at just 13. Cadet Erene Procopiou, 16, was carefully packing the bear mascot of 1374 (East Barnett) ATC Squadron beside her socks, as she and friend Stephanie Gullon talked about the days ahead. “It’s great to hear the veterans’ perspective and then get to see some of it for ourselves” said Steph.

At 17 fellow Cadet Chelsea Day wants to become a pilot after her A Levels. “I wanted to come on this march to challenge myself, to push myself and prove I can do it. The weather does worry me a bit though - my toes may be freezing!”

The marchers will first hold a memorial service at the Stalag Luft III museum before they complete Day One’s 21 miles to the Barn in Lipna, where they will camp overnight in the same building the Prisoners sheltered in 65 years ago.

The RAF’s long march in memory

This week the Royal Air Force has followed in the footsteps of its forefathers, re-creating part of The Long March of 1945. Marching a mile for each of the 65 years since the Prisoners of War were forced to move camps, the party of over 100 Service and civilian volunteers included four generations; from the oldest veteran of 95 to the youngest participant at just 13 years old.
The 2010 Long March in Memory draws to a close - in pictures. The veterans march into Spremberg train station with their modern day RAF counterparts.

28 Jan

Long March in Memory

THE RAF’S LONG MARCH IN MEMORY

This week the Royal Air Force has followed in the footsteps of its forefathers, re-creating part of The Long March of 1945. Marching a mile for each of the 65 years since the Prisoners of War were forced to move camps, the party of over 100 Service and civilian volunteers included four generations; from the oldest veteran of 95 to the youngest participant at just 13 years old.

Former Flight Lieutenant Eric Foinette was an RAF Navigator who became a Prisoner of War after his Wellington Bomber was shot down. He started the day of his 95th birthday the same way he had marked his 30th – by starting a journey from the Prison Camp Stalag Luft III, in Zagan, Poland.

“We left the camp on 28th Jan 1945, my 30th birthday. It was a very rough time, with no food, and chaps having to scrounge what they could along the way. As they got nearer to the Western Front, Allied aircraft mistook the great columns of marchers for Germans, and had opened fire on them.”

“One RAF Sergeant had built up a good relationship with his captors, and they allowed him to go through the German lines to the British near Hamburg, where he was able to pass on the message not to raid the marchers as they were actually RAF prisoners. The British offered to take the Sergeant home, and he said ‘No, I gave my word to the Germans that I would go back’, and he returned to look after his men.”

“I feel very proud that the RAF’s next generations are doing this march, and I am sure it will be a great experience they will always remember.”

With the temperature dropping to -28 degrees centigrade, the 2010 marchers were grateful for the modern day back up of a military field kitchen providing hot meals and drinks along the route. Civilian volunteer Mr Michael Day, 63, was marching in memory of his father, RAF pilot Frank Day.

“Frank was 28 when he was in the Long March, and he’d been in Stalag Luft III for 3 years. He had 2 nights in the snow, one night in the Barn at Lipna and one night in the Laundry at Bad Muskau. If he was looking down at what I’m doing today he’d probably be grinning, and calling me names!”

“I never thought I would do something like this until I came to see the Great Escape tunnel for the first time in November last year – it was very emotional for me. The camp was very isolated, and you could really feel the atmosphere. There has been nothing but courtesy, kindness and help from the RAF chaps – I fell over in the snow, and they helped me up. I had expectations of what it might be like to take part in this commemorative march, and it is all I thought it would be. I started off full of enthusiasm, and now I’m quite tired! Although I practiced for this, you can’t anticipate how the extreme cold can sap your energy. But it’s a real privilege to be here.”

Flight Lieutenant Louise Brooks, 43, is a Communications Engineer working in 90 Signals Unit based at RAF Leeming, Yorkshire. “I came on this march because I thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience. To be able to visit the site of Stalag Luft III in the company of veterans imprisoned there was extremely humbling.” Louise was part of the only mother and son team on the march, accompanied by 13 year old Ross Brooks, from Queen Ethelburga’s College Combined Cadet Force Unit. Ross, who wants to be an RAF pilot after school, summed up his week. “The best part of this experience is that we are remembering the people that actually did this back in 1945. It was amazing to meet Eric Foinette, he’s got brilliant stories to tell. I’ll take home an understanding of how hard the march actually was and I’ll remember all these people I’ve met this week – especially the medics who taped my feet up when they started to hurt!”

25 Feb

Long March on TV - 'Inside Out' Programme

The Long March will feature on BBC1's Inside Out programme on Weds 25th Feb, 7.30 in the North East & Cumbria region. Also on at the same time on Sky channel 975.
Failing that, it will be on the iplayer from thursday 26th around lunchtime for a week.

Go to www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer and search for "inside out" there are all the regional inside outs on there, click on "North East & Cumbria" and you can watch the whole programme.

20 Feb

The end of Ex Long March 09

Sub zero temperatures and heavy snow has provided a very authentic backdrop for Exercise Long March 2009. It has seen personnel from 90 Signals Unit (90 SU), stationed at RAF Leeming in Northallerton and pupils from both Yarm and Bedale High Schools complete a three day, 65 mile march from Zagan in Poland to Spremberg in Germany. It honored the actions and sacrifices made by Allied personnel during the Long March of Prisoners of War (PoW) in World War II, re-enacting 65 miles of the original 1000 mile route.

Project Officer for Ex Long March 2009 is Sergeant (Sgt) Neil Galloway who first completed this route last year with colleagues from the RAF. It was ultimately through his daughter’s persistence to join her father that invitations were sent to local high schools to accompany 90 SU for the 2009 trip. Now with the miles behind them and the poignant arrival at Spremberg station marking the completion of the march, Sgt Galloway reflected on the experience and said:

“I’m very elated. All the pain in the feet and the legs has just disappeared. I can’t tell you how much it means that all these students have finished something that many people said they never could do – it’s fantastic! I’d love to see this annually with young people from across the UK because I think this is the kind of experience we should be giving them.”

Exercise Long March 2009 remained as true as possible to the conditions that faced the PoWs in 1945. The night prior to commencing the trek was spent sleeping in the replica of Hut 104 on the site of Stalag Luft III which was built last August from a team predominately consisting of RAF volunteers. Another night was spent in the same disused barn that housed the PoWs in the most basic of conditions - undoubtedly leaving a lasting impression on all those taking part. Bitter conditions faced the team along the route but spirits remained high as rest stops saw the RAF field kitchen provide much needed sustenance, and an RAF nurse tended any injuries the walkers sustained, allowing them to continue.

Jack Harrison from Yarm High school was thrilled to have the opportunity to come on the trip and said:

“It really brings home the team work of the RAF when you see all the different trades coming together – the back up people, drivers and medics - all helping each other through. Without one of the team, everything would have gone down.”

Veteran of the original march, Andrew Wiseman, joined the trip, providing first hand accounts of his time in Stalag Luft III and the subsequent Long March that he endured during 1945. As limbs became weary and blisters appeared, Andrew provided moral support to all involved and a unique insight back into history and he said:

“The worst aspect of the original march was never knowing how long it was going to last because the German guards didn’t know either. I certainly don’t want the kids to think that we were heroes 65 years ago because I don’t think we were – we were just trying to survive. The one lesson I hope they learn from this is never to give in.

Day 4 - 19th Feb 09

Thursday was to be the last day of marching, with another 21 miles to go. The day would finish with a wreath laying ceremony at Spremberg Rail Station, led by original Long March veteran Andrew Wiseman. The marchers would then be transported by coach to Castle Kliczkow for a formal dinner to mark the end of the Exercise.

Jack Taylor

“I had trouble with blisters yesterday, but I’ve seen the medic and been bandaged up, so I feel good today. I can’t wait to get the spa hotel and book a massage!
I’m determined to cross the finish line – even if I have to crawl”.

Paul Kiczma

“My ankle is a bit swollen and walking hurts, but I’m definitely going to get to the finish line – I’m gonna moonwalk over it!”

Adam Bridges

“Feeling pretty good – it’s nice to be on the last day, just 15 miles to go. I never thought I’d say just 15 miles! I feel really really pleased to have done this. There is a sense of both a personal achievement and also as a team. It’s also incredible stuff that the field kitchen have served up – really, really tasty, not what I was expecting at all”.

Georgina Appleyard

“My foot hurts, but I’m going to walk the rest of it. We’ll take all the stories back to school – along with picture proof that we really did do it”.

Ellie Jenyns

“It’s been quite tough, but really worth it. It’s really satisfying once you’ve got the day over. I think everyone’s gonna feel proud of themselves, and everyone as a team once we’ve completed the march”.

Jack Harrison

“It really brings home the team work of the RAF when you see all the different trades coming together – the back up people, drivers, medics – helping each other through. We were all in this together”.

19 Feb 09

The Advance Party

As the marchers retraced the steps of the Prisoners of War from Zagan to Spremberg, they too had followers (and an advance party). What does it take to keep modern day marchers on the road? A far cry from the harsh realities of the original 1945 Long March, today’s volunteers have had a support team behind the scenes, paving their way with a few basic home comforts.

With 57 personnel needing food, bedding and toilet facilities, the support came from a varied team, including 3 chefs, 1 steward, 3 drivers, 1 admin clerk, 1 medic and a Regiment Sergeant, along with volunteers from the General Engineering Flight and 90 Signals Unit, based at Royal Air Force Leeming.

Sgt Mark Whittaker, one of the drivers, describes his week. “We drove over from the UK to Poland with 3 vehicles bringing all kinds of equipment to support the guys. This included a full field kitchen, many camp cots and sleep systems along with lighting, toilets and other bits and pieces.”

“We also brought the sort of goodies that you’d have at home, such as chocolate bars and crunchy nut cornflakes. The hardest thing to cope with has been the cold – trying to defrost the food in the mornings”.

Providing plentiful hot food has been the task of chef Senior Aircraftsman Jay Seymour and his colleagues. “We brought frozen rations with us, which we planned to defrost each day, but it’s been so cold – down to minus 12 at night, presenting a challenge for fried breakfasts!”

They came prepared to feed up to 65 people, which, he said, came in handy: “Yesterday we fed a couple of the locals in exchange for some firewood – we gave them hot soup, and we were then able to keep ourselves warm”.

After a fried breakfast, and a bowl of soup at lunchtime, the marchers have had a choice of two evening meals, as well as chocolate, crisps, fruit juice and hot drinks during the day.

“The real challenge has been getting up” Jay said. “As soon as we are all in the kitchen together we’re OK, but we set our alarms at 4.20am to get breakfast ready for the marchers at 6am. Someone has to get the hot water on so they can get washed!!

Washing and good personal hygiene whilst living in field conditions is essential. Daily foot checks have been carried out by Corporal Reah Macpherson, who then followed the marchers in the support vehicle. She had stocked up on bandages and blister kits but said “my supplies went down very quick – quicker than I had planned! Yesterday I was quite busy – around mile 12 people started to flag a little bit, taking it in turns to have a little rest on the bus”.

Handing out chocolate, soup and bottled water, Sergeant ‘Geordie’ Geldart assisted Reah in a vital morale boosting role. He also kept an experienced eye on the marchers; “The kids were very determined to finish the march, so trying to get them to come on the bus for a little while was tough!”

Driving the bus at the rear of the marching party, Senior Aircraftsman Andrew Reay summed up the activities. “Everyone on the support team has their own specialist role, as a driver, medic or engineer, but we all muck in and help – last night we were all chopping mushrooms ready for today’s soup!”

18 Feb

Day 3 - 18th Feb 09

With another 21 miles to do today, marchers were starting to need the attentions of the Royal Air Force medic, following the group in a support vehicle minibus.
Corporal Reah Macpherson was on hand with bandages and blister kits to make sure everyone was well looked after. Marchers were encouraged to pace themselves across the day. As the bus was also stocked with crisps, chocolate and bottles of water, there were several who took the opportunity to rest tired limbs for a few minutes………..

Blogs from the Bus!

Luke McLeod – Bedale

“This has been a really good experience, especially meeting the veteran, Andrew. The walking’s been slightly tiring, but I’m getting through it. I’ve rested in the bus as I’ve had a sore knee, but otherwise it’s good”.

“The barn last night was pretty cold, but when I got settled, I got quite a nice night’s sleep. The nice fry up for Breakfast helped! The best bit for me so far was staying in Hut 104, getting more info on the Great Escape. It was great being at the actual site and getting some historical background to the area”.

“I can’t wait for a nice shower tonight, and I’m looking forward to taking home some stories from the trip”.

Jack Taylor – YarmSchool

“I can cope with the walking, it’s just my feet aren’t really holding up to it, I’m not used to the distance. I liked sleeping in the barn, I was quite warm, I sort of hid inside the sleeping bag and did the top up!”

“I was quite surprised at how good the food has been, I thought it would be basic ration pack standard but it’s been good. Right now I’m looking forward to a shower and a swim, and I’ll hopefully get back walking soon”.

Katie Corps – Bedale

“It’s tough, but I’ll cope. It’s all great fun, in a strange way! The Yarm (school) guys seem really friendly and nice; we’ve been getting on well. I was very cold last night in the barn, but I did get some sleep. It took me ages to get changed this morning, it was so cold!”

“I’ve found all the (historical) stories interesting – it shows we aren’t actually going through that much, even when we think we are. They had no choice on the march, we volunteered to do this; it really puts it into perspective.

“This week for me was a bit of shock – its non stop, a lot of walking, you just keep going and going, but I’ve enjoyed it. The thought of the ‘big do’ tomorrow night is what’s keeping me going at the moment!”

Paul Kiczma – YarmSchool

“Today has been really good; it’s been challenging, and my feet are suffering, but it’s been a really good experience. The scenery is brilliant, everyone’s getting on really well, the Bedale guys are really cool. The barn was absolutely freezing – wet, smelly and damp but it was a good experience. At the end of today I’m just gonna turn on the hot shower, sit down in it and soak!

Hayley Wooff – Bedale

“Today has been good, I’ve been enjoying it, but I’ve been limping a bit with a bad ankle, and it’s annoying not being able to be out there with everyone else – but I’ll be back marching in a bit! It’s wet, cold and snowing a lot, I thought the barn was gonna be freezing, getting changed into pyjamas, but once you’re in the really good sleeping bag everything’s fine. Really good food has helped!”
“I think everyone is gonna have so much energy tomorrow, it’s like the finish line’s in sight. Everyone has been chatting, telling jokes and singing songs, it’s been good”.

Day 2 - 17th Feb 09

Itinerary:

Service at the Allied Prisoner of War (PoW) Memorial
Visit to School of Allied Airmen & Ilowa Church
Village Reception at Lipna
21.5 mile march from Stalag Luft III to Lipna

The Bedale Blog

Jessica Holmes

I feel tired, and I’m aching everywhere!
I’m really pleased we’ve done so well, we are halfway there on today’s march, and I thought we’d done a lot less miles……to do ten miles before lunch was great. We were all excited by lunch – hot soup and homemade bread!

I didn’t realise we were going to take part in a memorial service; it was very moving to say a prayer as a group. The historical talks throughout the day have also been really interesting. Having Andrew Wiseman with us has helped us to feel the experience more, and to understand how it really was from someone who was there.

I was a bit scared to begin with, meeting the RAF guys we were going to march with, as I didn’t think we would have anything to talk about. They have been really nice – even singing songs to encourage us to go faster. Strange songs, about poodles and mars bars – I didn’t sing, I was just laughing at those who were!

Hayley Wooff

It was a real privilege to have the opportunity to be part of the memorial ceremony and lay the wreath – it was very important to everyone here. Andrew was saying that it was minus 20 degrees when they were marched out of the camp, and that they didn’t have any of the support equipment we are using – it must have been so much harder for them.
Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll be able to walk on as well as I have today, and that I’ll be able to carry on through to the end of the week. I’m shattered just thinking about it!
I didn’t sleep too good last night, as I got pretty cold, but the proper breakfast fry up of sausage, bacon, eggs and beans – that was really nice.

Joe Vernon

I’ve really enjoyed today, it’s nice to see a bit of snow on the ground – like being at home! I don’t think the walking has been too hard; it’s been a bit slippery. It’s nice that we’ve had the RAF guys to talk to and the Yarm school guys too. Last night all the boys were starting to get on and have a laugh, it’s been really good.
I’m looking forward to the dinner on the last night - I really like my food. The food so far has been good – so I’m happy!
It was quite moving to spend time with a veteran who was there, and had taken part in the Long March – it was very humbling. We were there while he shared his memories of friends who had been killed; it was amazing to hear that.

Project 104 Hut

Day 1 - 16th Feb 09

Day One was a travel day, with all RAF personnel and school participants flying into Berlin, and boarding a coach to Zagan, Poland, from where there would start their march.
All spent the night in the replica Hut 104 at Stalag Luft III museum, wrapped up in sleeping bags with “The Great Escape” movie to set the scene for the next day.

04 Feb

Preparation Day for local students

The schools’ involvement started with Long March Project Manager Sgt Neil Galloway, and more specifically his 15 year old daughter, Shannon.

“Shannon would see me come home from military exercises and say how much she wished she could go with me – this is the first time it has been possible, and it’s great that we could extend the opportunity to some of her classmates”. Sgt Galloway was quick to organise a day at RAF Leeming for all the volunteers. “The two schools have never met, so the idea was to get them all together and do some team building activities. I hope the kids will see this as a great experience and that they get a real sense of achievement from it”.

Starting with a few games that would build their teamwork and communication skills, Yarm student Adam Bridges said “it really broke down some barriers and started the students talking”.

Yarm School runs a Combined Cadet Force unit, with the 8 students joining the Long March all serving Cadets, and used to the preparation for such an event. The 11 Bedale High marchers had a more sudden introduction to what they may face during the week, as Jessica Holmes explains: “The teachers walked us up into the Dales, and we’ve stayed overnight, camping in a barn. I was aching the next day!”

This will be Jessica’s first experience of working with the RAF. “I’m a bit nervous, as you have to keep to all the strict timing, and you don’t want to let the RAF down, but it’ll be good fun. It’ll be an experience”.

Sgt Galloway’s day ended with demonstrations of the military sleeping systems, a briefing on foot care and the issue of some RAF branded personal kit, including thermal hats and waterproof jackets. Despite the lecture on only taking essential items for the trip, there was a reminder that working with teenagers can be unpredictable with Shannon’s final question to her Dad: “Where can I pack my hair straighteners.

03 Feb 09

The 90 SU Long March

Originally planned as an exercise for 90 SU personnel, accompanied by veterans of the Long March, now, for the first time, RAF personnel participants will be joined by students from two local schools. On the 16th February all participants will leave the UK for the ardous march ahead of them, returning on the 20 Feb 09.
What this space for daily updates/blogs during their March.

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