Escape From Stalag VIIIB

The Resistance's Hideout

7/8 September 1943

The terrain immediately north of the river is as steep as it was to the south and so they walk west along the road for ten minutes until the terrain is flatter and Karel leads them to a turnoff which starts to ascend the hill via a narrow country road which is likely to see little in the way of traffic. Again they are relieved to see that there is plenty of cover on either side of the track in case they need to get off the road in a hurry.

But there is no sound of any activity anywhere in close proximity. They continue northwards for the next hour, avoiding the village of Serbst and then Karel leads them northeasterly when they get to a T-junction.

They continue on for another half mile, feeling quite exposed now as they pass through rolling fields on the crest of a low ridge and so are quite relieved when the road comes to an abrupt end, with just heavy woods ahead of them.

Entrenching tools are called for as they need to clear a path through the dark woods but, after twenty minutes, the deep woods open out a little onto a trail where walking is a lot easier. They follow the trail for an hour until they come out onto another road. Again it is just a travel track which sees little traffic. Karel leads them northwards along the track once more.

They follow the track north for another hour until they reach a crossroads. They cross over and head down another track over open pasture, which they follow for another hour. They can see the shape of large, industrialized buildings immediately to the south which they are by-passing, but all there is silent. Passing quickly over what would appear to the road into the industrial complex. Karel leads them along the treeline of a wooded area for another twenty minutes, then across a gravel track and into a clump of trees. It is now around 4.00am.

“We should rest up here until dawn now,” Karel says. “You’ll see why when the sun is up.”

After the exertions of the day, this comes as welcome relief to everyone. They set up a watch rota while the others get some rest.

Once the sun is up, they can see why Karel halted them here for a few hours. The sight before them is quite breathtaking.

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“You should feel at home here,” Karel says to Terry with a smile. “It is known as ‘Big America’. It’s a disused limestone quarry. It’s a major pain in the neck to get in and out of it, which means that it is like an upside down fortress, And the bottom is riddled with a network of abandoned caves. A few men could hold off a battalion down here. We’re just a little over a mile from Karlstein here, so it makes for an excellent bolthole.”

Everyone takes up their packs once more and then Karel goes to the edge of the cliff and makes a bird call. A couple of seconds later, he receives another bird call in response. Karel then leads everyone down the side of man-made canyon. Even following in Karel’s footsteps, it’s a nervewracking experience to follow the narrow path down when there is a very long drop to the side. Eventually, after half an hour, they manage to make it down to the bottom of the quarry, skirting the unnaturally blue water of the lake at the quarry’s base.

Two men dressed in civvies but brandishing Kar. 98Ks emerge from the undergrowth and greet Karel, Jan, Jozef and Anna warmly (particularly Anna). Immediately afterwards though, they start asking questions as to the identity of the six strangers. Piotr translates as Karel tells them all about what they have been through together over the previous 36 hours. After fifteen minutes of explanations, the other resistance members seem satisfied that the party members are not Nazi infiltrators and so lead everyone through a cave mouth into the labyrinth of limestone tunnels.

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After ten minutes of traipsing through the warren of interconnecting tunnels, they can see the glimmer of lights ahead of them and the sound of people arguing in Czech.

As they hear the group’s approach, they all go quiet and grab their weapons, but then relax when they see that the arrivals are friendlies. There are five men there, one of whom is dressed in the outfit of a priest. Obviously this is Father Andrzej Cerny. As the others already mentioned, the priest looks somewhat deranged. The other four are dressed in civvies, obviously more resistance members.

One of them starts speaking with Karel, once again asking him who he has brought with him. Karel, once again, goes through the entire events of the previous 36 hours, which seems to reassure them.

“I am Vaclav Zajic, leader of the resistance in the Karlstein area” the man who has been doing most of the speaking says. “These are my comrades, Jiri, Jakob and Oldrich. And this is Father Andrzej.”

He scowls as he introduces the Father. Obviously there is some friction between the two of them.

The party members introduce themselves one by one and everyone shakes hands. Vaclav invites them to sit and take breakfast with them, which they do. While eating, Piotr goes through the full details of their briefing, telling him that they are members of the S.O.E. and are on a mission on behalf of Frantisek Moravec to find out exactly what is going on in Karlstein Castle. Vaclav seems highly impressed that they reporting directly to the Head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence. Father Cerny is very excited that some professionals have arrived to help with his mission to ‘rescue more of the children’.

Karel stifles a yawn. It’s been a long time since the group had a proper night’s sleep.

“We have much to discuss,” says Vaclav, but I can see that you are in no condition for a long planning meeting now. You are safe here now, so get some rest and we will discuss details when you are fresh."

The party members are more than happy to take Vaclav up on his offer and are soon fast asleep on the pallets that the resistance members provide them with.

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NickPendrell

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