I did not keep writing my log after this journey and now nearly sixty years have passed, but after all that time my family have asked me to finish the story. It is extremely difficult to remember details and dates now but I will try:
After that journey of five days in awful conditions our car eventually unloaded onto the tracks. We were herded along the tracks to the entrance of a camp, which turned out to be Buchenwald Concentration Camp. "Buchenwald" means Beech Woods in German. A wrought iron legend over the gate spelled out "Arbeit mach frei" - work makes freedom! There was a large gazebo like structure, which we later found out had a heated floor, upon which bears were made to dance, for the amusement of the Germans. Later, the bears were replaced by Jews, which vastly entertained the SS.
Block 58 and abort in Buckenwalf Concentration Camp
We were taken into large buildings where we were shaved of all body hair and coated with delousing liquid, applied with a brush to our armpits, and pubic areas. Still naked, we were then marched to a huge barbed wire enclosure. I remember it had a lovely view of a valley and we tried to cheer ourselves by singing songs and making noise. We had no idea what to expect next. They told us we were to spend the night out there in a rock pile, which was being worked by the prisoners during the day. They issued us one blanket per every three men but still no clothes. You can imagine how difficult it was to share these blankets, but we tried our best.
The next day we were given rough ill-fitting prison uniforms, consisting of a jacket, pants and a cap made of ugly blue and grey striped cloth, but no shoes! My concentration camp number on stencilled rectangle stitched to the jacket was 78376. Days later we got given shoes - dead men's shoes.
By now, the military people (RAF, RCAF, RAAF, RNZAF and USAF etc.) were all put into one huge hut separated from the rest of the camp's prisoners. Sleeping arrangements were bare wooden shelves both sides of the hut, six feet in depth and four shelves high. I was on a shelf one from the bottom. We slept on the bare boards with no blankets or pillows. Outside, at one end of the hut was a circular stone fountain at which all washing was done in cold water. This was very primitive for hundreds of us to use, to say the least. Each man had a "gamell" issued (an aluminium dish about two inches deep), which we used for food and water.
The "abort" was a minute walk away and consisted of a big concrete pit with a low wall surrounding it. This was our toilet, and here, in public, we obeyed the calls of nature, and soon accepted sitting on the wall with our rear ends hanging over a ten foot drop. Days later, when the onset of diarrhea had hit us I was sitting next to a Pole on the wall, and he fell into the pit. I remember thinking - "poor man", but I just had to walk away, I have no idea if he was able to climb out. There was no one who would have helped me to get him out. The SS would probably have shot me for asking. That was the mood in the place, - you kept your mouth shut so as not to draw any attention to yourself. The Germans had the guns!
We often saw skeletal men walking by the barbed wire fence just collapse and die and we could do nothing. Once we saw a "kapo" (a prisoner-guard) carrying a pick-axe, hit an old man across the back viciously. The old man dropped and did not get up again. On the way to the awful "abort" I remember passing a shed with the door open and seeing a pile of naked corpses inside, waiting to be taken to the ovens. I kept on Life in Buchenwald settled into a routine. Every morning there was an "appel", a parade of the prisoners where we were all counted. We lined up in rows five deep, and the Germans counted us in fives. If someone had died during the night sometimes the corpse, if rigor mortis had set in, was held up for appef in the morning to avoid a recount. Sometimes, we stood for hours while this dreary procedure was carried out.
We got two "meals" a day, which we called grass soup. It was made of kohlrabi toppings and boiled potatoes in their skins. Sometimes we got a bit of black bread. The Polish prisoners carried the large wood tub of "food" down from the kitchens. Often a round pebble got substituted for a potato. Tough luck! It was really a slow starvation. We were not required to work like the Jews and other prisoners, so our days were spent in walking, and talking mainly. A favourite topic was food. We all remembered our most prized restaurants and wonderful meals eaten with our families.
Across the barbed wire fence there was a building we discovered was a brothel housing female prisoners forced to submit. This was for the Germans and privileged prisoners like kapos or collaborators.
On August 24th, 1944 we heard aircraft and saw American B17s (fortresses) approaching en masse, headed straight for our section of camp. The Americans among us felt sure that they would not attack us. A smoke candle signal went up from the lead plane and the entire formation made a left turn and dropped their bombs on the SS barracks uphill from us. The bombing achieved great success. Soon after the raid the SS called all "Englanders" and "Amerikanishers" to put out the fires. I watched all the raid with a friend - Frank Salt. Frank, actually got hit by an aluminium lath from a cluster of fire bombs, but he was alright fortunately. We had sat with our gammels over our heads during the raid, as if they would protect us!