Captured near Dieppe in August 1942, after crash-landing his Spitfire, John Shanks was sent to Lamsdorf PoW camp where he kept an almost daily account of his life there. He was just 20 years old, but due to the deprivations of camp life felt 40 when he was liberated 2 ½ years later.
At the end of the war, as the Soviet Army was advancing, German authorities decided to evacuate the PoW camps and march the internees westward. The March took a harrowing toll on the already undernourished and ill-equipped PoWs. The winter was the worst for nearly 50 years, reaching temperatures as low as -25C. The conditions made marching treacherous, especially as the columns of 200-300 PoWs often had to march up to 30kms a day across fields and through deep snow. Night-time billets were equally difficult and food often unobtainable. Many PoWs died during this appalling time.
His diaries are not only a compelling insight into the despair and struggle, but also the hope and camaraderie that comprised his wartime experience. They also are an interesting reflection on the disenchantment felt by so many after the war in Europe ended, and the suspicion that future conflicts were just around the corner.