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Sojourn in Silesia 1940-1945 by Arthur Evans CBE
Sojourn in Silesia 1940-1945 is the memoir of Arthur Evans, CBE and relates his experiences beginning in May of 1940 when he entered France as a member of the British Expeditionary Force, his subsequent wounding and capture by the Germans, his imprisonment in a German prisoner of war camp, and ending with his final liberation in May of 1945. Unlike most memoirs of World War Two, this one is not told from the point of view of a general, statesman or other grand strategist, but rather from that of an ordinary soldier: Arthur Evans was a sergeant. He tells a very engrossing, personal story, relating with considerable humility the story of his survival under sometimes horrendous conditions of exposure to the elements, brutality and near starvation. Acts of cruelty and kindness on the part of his captors are treated with an even hand in his narrative and he gives credit to his captors when it is due. Arthur Evans credits the International Red Cross with saving himself and his fellow prisoners from starvation during the first winter of his captivity as well as in the subsequent years, and his heirs have arranged that the proceeds of any book sales go to that organization.
Arthur Evans had the misfortune of war to be sent to France with an anti-tank unit in late May of 1940, just as the Allied position was crumbling and the BEF was preparing to evacuate. His unit soon found itself engaged in a battle with German tanks and infantry during which Evans was wounded in the ankle by shrapnel. He was sent to an ad hoc hospital set up in the town they were defending. After some days there, cut off from news of the fighting, he noticed one morning that a German officer was accompanying the British doctor on his rounds. Arthur Evans was a prisoner of war.
The bulk of the narrative concerns Evans experiences as a POW. Their arduous journey across France, Belgium, Holland and Germany to Stalag VIIIB located near Lamsdorf, Germany in the province of Silesia, is related in painful detail. From the beginning, the prisoners suffered from inadequate food and water and as the months wore on, this hardship began to take its toll. Evans’ description of the prisoner’s physical condition in late fall of 1940 parallels that of persons suffering simultaneously from malnutrition, scurvy and pellagra. Evans feels they would have perished that first winter had not packages from the International Red Cross arrived in December. Those packages were sufficient to supplement the inadequate rations and clothing provided by the Germans and keep the men alive. Evans relates in some detail the brutality and cruelty of their treatment at the hands of their captors. He also shares some of the acts of kindness, the good medical treatment he received from some German doctors, as well as his work as a translator with a German police officer who despised the Nazis, calling them gangsters and goons. Unfortunately, toward the end of the war, the Red Cross packages slowed and eventually stopped and the prisoner’s health problems returned. Most likely the packages were intercepted by the Germans who were starving themselves.
Fortunately for all of us, Arthur Evans survived and was eventually liberated in the spring of 1945. He returned to England in May 1945, five years after leaving. Upon leaving the Army, he became a policeman in the County of Kent and eventually rose to become the General Secretary of the Police Federation of England and Wales. For this, he was appointed to one of Britain’s highest honors: Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Arthur Evans passed away in March of 2011, only three days short of his 95th birthday.
The realism of this story is one of its salient features. For example, in the early part of the memoir, Evans describes the battle with the Germans during which he was wounded. After the war, in an obscure German military journal, he found an after action report prepared by a German officer involved in that very attack on his position. Evans includes that report in the narrative and it is amazing how closely the two versions of the same event, each seen from opposite sides of the battlefield, coincide.
This is a fine book. It is well written and never fails to carry the reader forward through Arthur Evan’s five year ordeal. I highly recommend his memoir to anyone interested in history and in stories of personal triumph over adversity. It is available in E-book format at Amazon.