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Department of Veterans Affairs



Escape From A German Prison Train
In the heart of Nazi Germany, 1943

      It was somewhere between Frankfurt, Germany (about 10 hours after leaving Dulag Luft (30 plus miles N of Frankfurt) where most downed airmen were sent for interrogation before they were shipped to various designated prison camps. It was just after midnight, May 1943. We were on a prison train with forty other POWs. Most of us were still supporting bandages from wounds we had received only weeks before when we were shot down, and crashed or parachuted into the hands of the Germans.

     It was an old, European passenger train, with staggered compartments that could accommodate about three adults on each side, facing each other, and luggage racks overhead. The windows could be lowered or raised by using a thick canvas strap, very much like the ones that American old steam engines trains had in those days. But to prevent us from opening these windows, the straps where nailed down to the wooden frame of the coachs.
      Several of us were secretly planning an escape, preferably near midnight. Some of the more seriously wounded, would try to block the guards from shooting, or try in some way attempt to get in their way. The rest of us would, at the sound of  the signal "TALLY HO," and jump out one of the window.
      It was a slow process using our fingers to pull out the nails holding down the window straps, then very slowly lowering the windows so that the guards would not hear the sudden outside noises of the train.
     We were in luck. Just before midnight the train came to a water stop, and we waited while the engineís tank was being filled. When the horn broke the silence, the train began to move. We were ready.

       Someone hollered, "Tally HO".

      Up went the windows, and out we dove into the blackness. Then all hell broke loose.

      My jump from the train carried me just over the rocky ballast of the track bed and I rolled over some soft ground into some sort of a hedge that had grown around a barbed wire fence. I was trapped.

      By this time, the wheels of the train were screeching to a halt. Searchlights were everywhere. The German guards where screaming and shooting. Bullets were zinging all around us. And I was helplessly trying to fee myself from the barbed wire.

      "Bob, Iím stuck." I hollered. "See if you can pull me out of this damn stuff."

      We didnít know it at the time, but Bob Hansen and I were the only ones who got out of the train. He and I were shot down together on the Bremen raid, April 17, 1943.

      Almost immediately, I saw Bob reaching into the hedge, and after a few seconds of twisting and pulling, he managed to pull me through the barbed wire, but my pants, and part of my shorts, were still clinging to the wire in the hedges. I was practically naked. By this time, many of the German Guards were all over the place, and shooting in all directions, but we had made it to the other side of the hedge and were running full speed into the night, swinging and swaying with every stride.

      It must have been around 5 a.m. when we dropped from exhaustion. It was still dark when we crawled under some bushes, and curled up together to help keep warm, and went to sleep.

      Just after daylight, we were awakened by the sound of voices. Two German soldiers were walking along a bicycle path that would bring them within yards from where we were hiding. And because of the leafless bushes, in a few seconds, they could not help but see us.

     Bob and I must have had the same idea at the same time, because we reacted accordingly.

     Bob rolled on top of me, I raised a bare leg in the air, and tried to giggle like a girl.

     It worked!

 The two soldiers made several remarks in German that we could not understand, laughed and joked for a few seconds, and went on their way.

By Roy Livingstone   

What happened later? See Life and Death of POWs

Obviously, this story is not over. The days and months (two years, plus) that followed were not so funny. I did manage to find an old pair of pants (infected with lice) in an abandoned chicken coop. We found one chicken egg that we sucked dry. The only other food we found during those fourteen days were bugs that we got out of a spring. Fourteen days later, we were recaptured trying to cross a river. We were put into a civilian jail for a few days. Later, we were shackled, and two Guards transported us to Stalag 7-A, in Mooseburg (near Munich)Munich) where we were thrown into a Suderbarakie (a detention Barracks fenced off from the other compounds) where all "bad" Russian prisoners were kept) While there we never saw a Red Cross food package, only sickness,and death.  
    Months later, after we were moved to Stalag XVII-B in Krems, Austria, we learned about Barbed Wire Johnson. It seemed that at the time of our escape from the prison train, Johnson had been sitting or laying on the luggage rack above the seats in our compartment on the train. After Bob and I jumped out of the train, in an effort to keep the guard from shooting us through the window, Johnson intentionally fell on top of the guard. When the guard got back on his feet, he whacked Johnson in the head with the butt end of his rifle. Evidentially, that seriously damaged Johnsonís mind. Later, in the American Compound at Stalag VII-A, Johnson  habitually would be seen counting the barbs on the barbed wire fence, hence the name, "Barbed Wire Johnson". Before we were released from the Detention Barracks, Johnson stepped over the warning wire  which was five to ten yards from the main fence which guarded us from the outside world. The guards called "Halt," but Johnson kept going towards the main fence. Other POWs called Forickt, Forickt, meaning crazy, crazy. It was too late. The guards shot and killed him, anyway.   

 You may want to Click on  STALAG VII-A