Liberation & Repatriation
From other sources we know that this period was a particularly tough one for the inmates of Stalag IVB. With the bitterly cold winter upon them, food rations and Red Cross parcels were cut due to delivery problems, and the camp faced severe overcrowding.
By the time Bill resumes his diary at 3 May 1945, the Germans have gone and Russian soldiers are guarding the gates, having liberated the camp on 23 April 1945. They were refusing to allow the British and American prisoners to be released, however, until their own forces arrived, and so Bill and his friends were forced to wait a further month under this new Russian guard:
This period of waiting for our own forces to come and release us from Russian hands is deadly. Every day we are promised that within 2 or 3 days we will be on our way home. Many men have already left camp and are finding their own way back to our lines. The Russians are taking a poor view of this and have placed armed guards around the camp… Just what our position is here no one seems to know… To be guarded by Russian ex-prisoners of war when the war is over seems to me to be all wrong…
Bill Smith, diary, 17 May 1945 1999/195.14b
The prisoners were able to leave the camp to gather extra food, which generally meant looting from German civilians in the nearby town, which was occupied by the Russian Army. Bill had no qualms about taking food from the Germans, noting that “it is their turn to go hungry and like it” (diary, 7 May 1945).
Finally, on 23 May 1945, the repatriation process for British and American prisoners began, and Bill was flown out of Germany two days later on an American C-47 Dakota. There was a compulsory stop at a transit camp in Brussels, where he was reintroduced to some home comforts:
There is everything here for our comfort. Reading and writing rooms, dry canteen, wet canteen, Red X stores, free cigs. Simply marvellous. I nearly cried with joy when I saw such good things and such charming people doing everything possible to help…
Bill Smith, diary, 26 May 1945 1999/195.14b
See below to read Bill’s last war diary entries, written in Brussels in May 1945:
After being repatriated from Germany, Bill returned to England for a four-month period of rehabilitation before embarking for New Zealand. After more than 3 years away, he finally arrived home on 5 September 1945. Not wishing to waste any more time, he and his fiancée Clare were married the very next month. He resumed work at Cadbury Fry Hudson Ltd after receiving his official Demobilisation Orders, and like thousands of other returned servicemen, readjusted to normal life as best he could.