Vodka, March, Vodka March…
In recent Twitter exchange talked about Vodka. Mainly stemming from me posting a picture of myself in Poland and then a picture of some Vodka Martini’s I was drinking.
It reminded me of the context of the original picture of me in Poland. I was there as part of a “Staff Ride” – an week long activity to recreate a wartime event called The Long March, which happened in January 1945. In this case in 1945 the Prisoners from Stalag Luft III were forced to march from Sagan (in Poland) to Spremberg (in Germany). They did so in terrible weather – one of the worst winters on record – and with virtually no warm clothing or provisions, living on less than 100 Calories a day – taking upto three weeks to make the journey of 65 miles.
We followed the exact route that the Marchers had taken, albeit in modern clothing and with the support of a mobile catering unit. We did however do it in just three days, 21 miles on the first day, 20 on the second and 21 on the third day. We also did it in similar conditions given that we also did it at exactly the same time as one of the more infamous marches began.
Anyway, the first night that we arrived in Poland, we travelled to Sagan to the site of Stalag Luft III (also, as history buufs will know the site of the “Great Escape” in 1944) to spend the night in the camp. We were fortunate to camp on the site of the original camp – which is now, sadly, ruined and overgrown by the trees of the forest there. To get us in the mood for the whole endeavour (such as we needed!) it was decided that we should watch the classic film there.
Yeah, we actually watched the film of the Great Escape, where it actually happened! But even in the visitor centre where we were watching it, it was very cold. So to warm ourselves up we were given – by the locals some vodka.
Which was perhaps the roughest, nastiest vodka I have ever tasted. And of course, as is the fashion over in Poland, it was drunk neat…and so it was even rougher!
Vodka became a bit of a theme to the trip to be honest. With the locals where ever we stopped being the friendliest bunch ever – almost competing to out do he hospitality of the last! This was topped by the local Womens Institute of Lipna Luszcyka who put on a choral evening of folk music. Which included a very bizarre version of Viva Espania to an accordian!
The trip and the march we undertook was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was physically and mentally demanding. At the end of the first day, marching through deepening snow which had been blowing into our faces all the way, over cobbles for 21 miles I was almost broken. About a mile from our destination I developed cramp in my thigh muscles and a sever sense of humour failure.
But I went on. There was nothing I could do other than go on. I was there to recreate something that people had done in far more and difficult circumstances to me and I was not going to be beaten. I was doing something that previous members of the Royal Air Force had done – and something that is not widely known about. I wanted to honour those who had done it by doing it myself.
And I think this is part of another reason why I enjoy being in the RAF.
It’s being part of something. Part of something that has history and tradition. That is bigger than we are individually. The RAF is made up from little bits of greatness carried out by normal people. Ordinary men and women doing extra-ordinary things.
I did this March in 2007. I was 38. And it was here that I learnt that we need to belong to things. And that when things are really tough and we are in pain – we still need to keep going and keep working. Oh and that vodka is a lot stronger and rougher in Poland.