The other day, me and my brother were helping clear my grandpas’ old house, as it was being put on the market. In the attic, we found a whole host of things that he had brought back from the war in a box. He was a translator (they came in handy, as they could talk to POW’s and speak with civilians) in the Airborne, and his unit got separated behind the Siegfried line. He had never mentioned the box really, or shown us.
I don’t blame him in all honesty, mainly because of his diary that we found in there. It wasn’t very long, but it was disheartening to read. We reckon he made it to try and keep his nerves. Anyway, these are the only pages, and it was moving to read.
December 14th, 1944:
We’ve been split off. I don’t know how, I’m still trying to get my head round things. The Sarge says we’ll be ok, but I’m not so sure myself. We’re in the dense forest, in the middle of nowhere. The worst part is not knowing whether the krauts actually patrol this area. We did brief scans, and we can’t see any activity. We might be safe here, for now.
December 16th, 1944:
It’s getting cold. Too fucking cold. And we’re all getting nervous. If we don’t find some sort of shelter, it’s not unlikely we might even freeze to death. As if the krauts weren’t already enough to handle. Sarge says we will all march tomorrow to try and find anywhere we can to give us more cover from the cold. But for now, it’s becoming painful to be alive, let alone to write.
December 17th, 1944:
I can’t believe we’ve made it. Well, at least to some form of safety. After hours of wandering through the untouched snow, we found a small, isolated hamlet. Nothing, special, about 10 houses and a farmhouse, but the townsfolk greeted us with open arms. The ones that had arms left, anyway. Some of them were in healthy condition, others had been severely beaten, and mutilated.
When I asked them what had happened, they exchanged nervous glances, and quickly changed conversation. It was exhausting work translating to the squad, but they were all happy just to hear good news of me. The townsfolk wanted to take us in from the cold, and let us move into the barn. There were few blankets left, but we were told to help ourselves and start a fire. They showed us where the barn’s food storage was, and we thanked them, repeatedly. Time to get a good night’s sleep for once.
December 19th, 1944:
I talked to one of the elder villagers, Bernd, about what had happened to the village and its people. He explained how, when the kraut forces retreated, they raided all the nearby towns for blankets and supplies, and that raids often got out of hand. He then continued, and explained to me that they had food stores hidden around the tiny hamlet so that they could survive the winter.
He added that they thought they had taken everything, and therefore wouldn’t come back for more. Our conversation was even better news for our squad, and I relayed everything Bernd said back to Sgt. Burnside immediately. He was impressed, and he let the squad have a celebratory “bier” upon hearing the good news. After all, there weren’t any krauts coming our way… hopefully.
December 24th, 1944:
It’s been over a week now, and we are still safe and sheltered. My only hindrance is that it’s already Christmas Eve and I haven’t been able to send a letter back to the states. I’ll be home soon, Linda, don’t worry.
January 3rd, 1945:
At last, allies! The sound of advancing troops really shit us up at first, but the dark green flashes and the sound of friendly voices soon settled our worries. It’s a glorious day. One of the squads from the Eagles surrounded the village, while we said our thanks to the villagers and started to then fall back with the 502nd. On the way back, it was hard not to notice a few surprised and confused faces. I’m surprised at our luck myself. God bless the 502nd.
It was a story that, when I had finished dictating to my brother, we felt a sense of happiness for grandpa, that he had overcome what would be a tough situation to a soldier, let alone anybody. It brightened my day, and it really amazed my brother. He was so interested by the diary that he spent a few hours researching grandpa’s unit on the internet. He went on the official website and found grandpa’s combat details and regiment and so forth. I was finishing packing up when he shouted across the attic to me. “Connor, look! I’ve found some info on grandpa’s unit!” I hurried over to him and his laptop, and started to scan-read down the page, until I found the part about what he’d written in his diary.
“82nd AA unit became separated, and held up with tremendous adversity in a rural hamlet in Großeschnee, and were then returned to base accompanied by the 101st Airborne 502nd unit.”
It didn’t interest me, it was exactly what grandpa had said in the diary. I started to walk off, but my brother grabbed my arm and said, “Oi, wait!” I turned around, sighing.
My brother excitedly pointed to the screen, with a puzzled expression on his face. He had clicked onto a different tab, and there was a shady, black-and-white picture of a small hamlet, with 10 houses, and a large barn. The title of the page read “The Nazi retreat – The lesser known casualties” My eyes shifted down again to the picture, with a caption which read
“One of the many hamlets that suffered at the hands of their own army – The hamlet of Großeschnee, raided and its population massacred – August, 1944.”