Prisoner of War Diary Frank Stebbing recounts his stay as a prisoner in Germany
By John Kudley Jr.
The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, will be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of previous wars to have been treated and appreciated by their nation – President George Washington
In May 2018, the Aurora Historical Society opened its exhibit in honor of Aurora veterans who have selflessly served our country. The exhibit featured treasured memorabilia on loan to the museum by veterans as well as items from the company’s collection. One of the articles was a war diary donated to the company by an unknown donor. The “Log” belonged to Frank Stebbing, one of the thousands of Allied soldiers taken prisoner during World War II. Stebbing was held prisoner in the German Stalag III B in Furstenberg, Bavaria, Germany. Although little is known about Stebbing, he was one of the American GIs taken prisoner in the fighting in North Africa in 1943.
A Wartime Log was a newspaper distributed by the YMCA’s War Prisoner Aid from 1943. The newspapers were intended to provide prisoners with a “spiritual, educational and recreational” outlet during their detention and to be a “visible link between” the prisoner. war “and the people at home”. The blank diaries were sent to prisoners of war as part of the American Red Cross relief program. The packages contained non-perishable items such as cookies, raisins, coffee, powdered milk, canned beef and fish, cigarettes and soap. While the packages were intended for distribution directly to prisoners of war, their German guards often stole the packages.
The diaries contained drawings, watercolors, camp diagrams and poems and provide a vivid picture of the daily life of Allied prisoners of war. Camp life varied from one stalag to another depending on the temperament of the officers and guards in charge. While the treatment of prisoners of war on both sides was dictated by the Geneva Convention, compliance with regulations depended on the ability of Red Cross inspectors to gain access to the camps.
Frank Stebbing’s A Wartime Log contains a poem called A Childs Soliloquy. He also wrote poems which appeared in other POW journals. On page 59 is a calendar titled “POW DATE” beginning October 10, 1944 and ending April 14, 1945, the day he and his fellow inmates were released. On the last pages, 45 other prisoners of war signed the diary with the address of their hometown. There was Vincent from Minersville, Pennsylvania; George of Lynchburg, Virginia; Henry of Camden, NJ; Edgar of Hazelhurst, Mississippi; Leslie of Atchison, Kansas; Warren of Gresham, Oregon; Eldon of Mansfield, Ohio; Clarence of Jacksonville, Florida; Truman of Columbia, South Carolina; and William of Paris, Kentucky. While many “war diaries” paint a picture of life in a Nazi stalag, Stebbing’s provides a detailed description of the last 52 days of his captivity during what many prisoners of war called the “long march”. “The walk of bread”. ”And the“ Death March across Germany ”.
Since the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Allied forces have been advancing steadily through Western Europe. At the same time, Soviet forces were advancing from Eastern Europe, gripping Nazi Germany in a deadly embrace. The German high command decides to evacuate the prisoner of war camps in order to delay the release of the prisoners. From January to April 1945, approximately 80,000 prisoners marched west in extreme winter weather conditions.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of German civilian refugees, mostly women and children, as well as civilians of other nationalities, were also heading west on foot to avoid the advancing army. Soviet.
Stebbing and his fellow detainees held at Stalag III B were divided into small groups for their evacuation. Stebbing noted that “Our convoy consists of about a thousand Americans, with a few French and Russian soldiers thrown out.” Placed in a small group of 45 men, he and six other men were determined to stay together.
Their 52-day ordeal covered a total of 670 kilometers (416 miles). Daily walks ranged from 6 to 24 miles and several times stayed in the same spot for several days. Sometimes they slept in barns, but most stayed overnight in fields exposed to the elements. On Friday March 2, Stebbing sarcastically recorded, “Break the jackpot today for 40 kilometers by walking in a freezing wind that has pushed you from one side of the road to the other. After reaching our destination a few kilometers from the town of Swinemunde, we bivouacked in an open field and practically froze to death trying to get some sleep.
Red Cross parcels were distributed sporadically. Running out of food, the POWs resorted to foraging for food at the farms they passed through on the march. Their diet consisted mainly of boiled potatoes and bread, with one loaf of bread shared among the group for several days. According to Stebbing, “The Russians in our convoy just cut up a horse that the Germans shot down today. They get very little to eat from the Nazis and get their food where and in the best possible way. They are really “hurt”. “On March 16, he wrote:” Still 23 kilometers today with nothing but a few slices of bread and a small box of butter … At night, we were allowed to make fires but we had nothing to eat. to cook. The next day he recorded: “A day of rest and still nothing to eat. We managed to get some potatoes and cabbage, but we were forbidden to make a fire for cooking, so we ate them raw. We are starting to suffer now and some GIs are exchanging blankets, shoes, sweaters and shirts for a loaf of bread. On the 24th, he recorded: “Another major misery has hit all men, hunger was not enough, so with it came body lice that prevent us from sleeping well after a long, tiring day.
Most of the German towns they passed through were either abandoned or the inhabitants had been ordered to stay inside. The newspaper reports that “Everywhere we stop someone informs us that the Russians are not very far behind and are arriving quickly… Almost every night we hear heavy bombardment or artillery in the distance. Some of our military experts believe the war will be over by this time next month. On March 18, Stebbing recorded, “Kilometers: 15 O foods. That’s our score for today.” We passed through the city of Krakow just as a huge armada of Allied bombers passed overhead to and from a bombardment of Germany. On March 25, Palm Sunday, “Germany did not have peace from the bombing today… we saw these valiant Yankee Devil Dogs pass over us in great numbers. On March 31, “Over our heads, two American P61s had stuck a single Jerry fighter plane and as we watched the dog fight, the Jerry plane suddenly caught fire and crashed to the ground at 1 kilometer from where we looked. “
As Allied forces in the west and Soviet forces in the east tightened the noose on Germany, the POWs suddenly changed direction east. Stebbing recorded: “On April 9 our total miles in a westerly direction was now 670 kilometers and we’ve already backed up 25 kilometers… This whole trip seems terribly silly to us now… would be within 40 kilometers of the front lines. Americans and we’re assuming the GIs are coming quickly… ”As the German army retreated from the Western Front, Stebbing’s group was overtaken by trucks full of German soldiers and equipment. On April 11, they were surprised to see many of their guards leave. On Friday April 13, he wrote: “The three of us, along with a few outside friends, decided to head out into the woods and sweat the GIs coming. Well, we went and walked away a few hundred yards… when all of a sudden we were shot at, knowing all too well that in gun parlance it meant coming back, and we came.
On Saturday April 14, Stebbing’s last recordings, “At around 3 am a loud scream was heard as the PWs spotted an American jeep and a reconnaissance car speeding towards us… PWs went crazy with excitement, cheering , screaming, jumping, hugging like boys at a picnic. The day had finally arrived when we had to be free again… ”That evening, prisoners of war marched through the town of Salzwedel where the civilian population had been ordered to leave. Prisoners of war have taken possession of their homes. Stebbing and his friends have taken over a three-bedroom apartment. “That night we ate like kings, smoked cigars, looted anything of value in sight, and slept in feather beds. The spoils of war have been sweet to us after starving for these things for so long… I think Salzwedel will remember us for a long time.
Those responsible for handling Allied prisoners of war during the war should never be allowed to forget what happened. History should also not forget those responsible long after their death. Since last April, 76 years have passed since Stebbing and the other GIs were released from their years of captivity. Now the prisoners of war who wrote their names on the back of Stebbing’s war diary are no longer with us. Journalist Tom Brokaw called the men and women who endured the Great Depression and World War II “the greatest generation.” Stebbing’s journal is one of the lasting testimonies of the sacrifices of this generation.
Printed with permission from the Aurora Historical Society which retains the rights to all content and photos.