|German Patrols on bicycles would have been looking for the escapers - perthvintagecycles.com|
Duncan recorded on September 15 1941 that the previous night ‘was as bad as any I could remember, made worse by the pouring rain.’ His diary of the escape kept whilst on the run provides a fascinating factual account and has brushstrokes of detail which are often missed from work written after events took place. Many of the problems encountered by the two men were typical of a cross country escaper during the war, although the search and ‘lockdown’ by the Nazis did not seem to have quite the same trawl and intensity as in the years which followed.
The men left their hide in the forest at 19.00 to continue a strategy of travelling at night and lying low during the day. The sole soon came off O’Sullivan’s shoe resulting in a stop every few minutes to tie it back on with a mackintosh belt and a piece of string. Duncan describes them at the time as being ‘a pretty crippled pair.’ Open to the elements, physically exhausted and with wet clothing and poor footwear, it is easy for us today to totally underestimate the sheer hardship and mental battle experienced by these men, despite the tough and menial existence in a POW camp, which would have afforded them some resilience.
The fine balance between keeping going and giving up was constantly tested, and examples and hints of this percolate through Duncan’s narrative. The problems with O’Sullivan’s shoe and deteriorating mobility of the men forced them to deviate from their plan and take the risk of using roads. The dishevelled limping pair would be instantly recognisable and the Saulgau road which was their objective would almost certainly be guarded at some points. The men’s luck held as they only ‘actually saw one motor cyclist and one cyclist’. After deviating north and then west, they hid in a forest for the night. Duncan’s words need no qualification:
At 20.00 on September 16 the diary notation began ‘very bad’. They left their hide at 20.00 moving west through pine forest in the direction of Hohentingen and Hausen, eventually reaching a large river which they assumed to be the Danube. After following the line for about two miles they struck south and reached the main road which ran parallel with the river. The time was noted as 02.30 and estimated distance covered 20 kilometres. Tired and fully visible under a bright moon, it was not surprising that Duncan favoured moving towards a wood on the horizon and hiding out for the rest of the night. O’Sullivan was typically insistent they pressed on. The diary recorded that he had no sole on one of his shoes and his solution for being restricted and lost, as they were at this point was to ‘go faster.’
|Terrain around Hohentingen - wikipedia|
They walked a good way down the main road without being spotted. There were no road signs to get their bearings, but at 03.30 O’Sullivan agreed that that they should look for shelter. Traffic would soon be using the main road and they must stay out of sight during daylight hours. The pair walked south west crossing a railway line and heading uphill for a solitary wood in the distance. It was the first of a string of apple orchards and hills. The first group of trees was near a large town and the rest were too sparse for hiding out.
O’Sullivan must have been impervious to pain, but on September 18 the foot started to seize up. Despite this, Duncan with his injured leg was still unable to keep up. Three times they were nearly seen by cyclists and managed to take cover. Much of the journey continued through pine forests but there were stints along roads where as Duncan wrote ‘watchfulness and good luck saved us.’
Final part next week
Sources and Additional Reading
Underground From Posen - Michael Duncan Highly recommended read and it is much more than one man's escape story. A detailed account of the Glosters' stand at Cassel in 1940 is well documented.