RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Larger Than Life…

Earlier in the month I posted this article (Vodka March, Vodka March…) about the Long March – a little know, but very important part of the Royal Air Force’s history.

It is 65 years today (25th January) that the Long March commenced from Stalag Luft III, and this fantastic article has popped up on the BBC website.  Written by Mr Andy Wiseman, it’s a great first hand account of the Long March, written by someone who participated in the event itself, back in 1945 – and who still returns with young people of today – despite his 87 years – to tell that story so that people learn about and understand what went on in that freezing, snowy winter of 1945.

As I have said I have done the modern day Long March – some 65 miles in three days – and I did it in similar weather to that January, and when I did it, I had the pleasure to meet and spend a bit of time with Mr Wiseman…

…Who is the COOLEST guy.  He spent many hours regailing us with his stories and tales. He laughed and joked with us. He took the mick and gave and took a bit of banter.  He provided me with a sledge to pull along on the March – to see what it was like pulling a sledge over the snow covered roads (just as he had done).  When after four hours of pulling the bloody thing along I eventually lost my patience and threw it into a snow drift, he popped his head out of the car he was following us along with and called me over. “It’s not easy, is it?” He said.

“No. It’s a right pain, the bloody cobbles make it go all over the place.”

“Yes. Mind you, you lasted about three hours longer than I did with one back then. I binned it after an hour and carried the stuff in my coat. Was much easier and it stopped the nasty bully-beef from freezing.”

He told us that he marched in temperatures of -15…and as temperatures lowered during our trip hit -15 he added that -15 was the warmest it had been. No matter how cold we were, the temperatures he marched in went 5 degrees colder. Eventually getting to -23 degrees (I think he was just being nice to us, not wanting to upset ourselves when we were feeling a bit demoralised by the weather).  But we didn’t care, because during his speech at the dining in night to celebrate our completion (and comemorate the March itself) he gave us the highest honour he could. He called US Long Marchers too.

I met Andy year or so later at the Funeral of Sqn Ldr Jimmy James (a Great Escaper himself) where I was acting in very small capacity.  He walked into a packed Ludlow Church and strode down the aisle.  He stood there looking for a seat (which I had reserved for him). I went over and shook his hand and asked how was he doing.  In front of the packed church, and with the Union Flag draped coffin of Jimmy James in front of him he said “Well, I’m not dead.”

Larger than life is an understatement. He is a fantastic example on how to live life to the full.  He embodies the “can do” ideal of living life – that living involves actually doing things, and taking challenges head on.

Long may he continue to travel back to Poland and to participate in Long March commemorations.  The world will be a sadder place when he leaves it, but for now, long may he march.

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