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SNOWY CAMPBELL made many daring escape attempts during his four years as a prisoner of war - his last during an 800km forced march across Germany, ahead of the advancing Russians.
One of 84 Australian airmen held at Lamsdorf, East Germany, Snow Campbell and other POWs marched west towards the Allies in the winter of 1944-45. In his own words:
"It was a death-march but we looked upon it as a march towards victory".
Trudging countless kilometres each day in unbearable conditions and unsuitable clothing, the men were given scant rations. Some days they got nothing. At times they were crammed into tiny shelters, mostly cow barns, and forced to sleep sitting up.
Many marchers died on the 800km journey, some from frostbite, some from malnutrition. Some were beaten, some were bombed.
"We had to face the problems of bombing because it was an area of great activity at the time. We weren't really terrified - just apprehensive. If a bomb had hit us we wouldn't have known about it. We'd see the damage of the bombing and watch people searching through the rubble for their families. I can't describe it."
Eventually Snow and a mate decided to escape during the march.
"We made our way to the front, sidestepped, kept walking and joined the civvies right in front of the guards. We continued walking for a bit and then headed off into the trees and up into the mountains with enough food for about three days."
It was Campbell's first taste of freedom in four years. Hearing guns in the distance, he and his mate watched the war rage on in the valley.
The American tanks had arrived.
"I don't think I could ever put into words how we felt when the Yanks came."
Campbell and other surviving airmen of Lamsdorf have written a book, "The RAAF POWs of Lamsdorf", detailing their experiences. Proceeds go to the Red Cross.
It is a saga of survival, a march towards victory, and life and experiences in a POW camp.
"Not much has been written about this march and all the pain and suffering we went through. We wanted to tell our story."
Snow Campbell's Air Force story had started four years earlier. Trained at Laverton and Point Cook, Victoria, and Richmond, NSW, he headed to the Middle East in 1940 with the first RAAF squadron to leave ... 3 Squadron.
They had been doing Reconnaissance work with the Army when the enemy was driven from Cyrenaica (Libya), North Africa.
A radio man, Snow was sent to Adjadabia advanced landing ground at the time when the Germans first attacked in Libya. It was then that Snow was captured. Not long after, he made his first escape - albeit only a few days before he was caught again.
"Me and a mate ran across the beach and into a boat which was full of water. We managed to get past the guards. We rowed all night, fixing up the hole in the boat, sailed a couple of days and on the fourth night met a sudden storm. The waves were six feet high. When the sun came up, we spotted Germans on the beach and our boat was heading ashore. There wasn't much we could do."
Afterwards, he was sent to Tripoli with some other Australians. They were, "hot, dirty and very hungry."
"To defy the Germans we tried to be cheerful, singing and joking. My own attitude was that I had failed and this was the punishment I deserved..."
After six months, he was sent to Sicily, another part of Italy, and lastly, Lamsdorf.
While a prisoner at Lamsdorf, he pursued his interest in radios, at first unbeknown to the German guards. He made a simple crystal set so he could pick up the BBC, but he needed headphones and aerials; things hard to come by.
"We put the aerials under the eaves of our huts but it wasn't long before the Germans realised what we were up to."
While trying to make radios, he would sneak equipment from storage sheds - meters, wires, valves, sockets and so on.
"The trick was getting past the guards and learning to help yourself. Then you had to get the stolen gear past the guards on the way back. I was caught by a German one time, but he didn't blow the whistle on me. He wanted me to fix his broken wireless at home. We became friends. He and some of his friends smuggled equipment to help me build the radios. We paid them with cigarettes, soap and sometimes chocolate."
But after the radios were built, the POWs had a tough job keeping them hidden from the guards. They hid the wires in the woodwork of their beds. There were many searches.
"My radio was hidden in the framework of the bed, so before I went out I messed up my bed, and the guards left it because they thought it had already been searched... A couple of days later they found the radio."
Throughout the war, Snow ran the risk by keeping diaries on scraps of paper.
"Trying to hide them from the Germans was difficult. They took one of my diaries and punished me."
Snow Campbell's prisoner of war "schedule" was:
Tripoli: 6 May 1941 to 6 January 1942;
Sicily: 6 January 1942 to 1 February 1942;
Italy (mainland): 1 February 1942 to 14 September 1943;
Lamsdorf: 16 September 1943, to 22 January 1945.
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