I have returned to fight on the Russian front.  Everywhere remains covered with snow and frost but there is also deep mud, making it hard for me to walk.  As I pick my way along the ice road, I am very scared.  I do not know what is waiting for me in the darkness; I do not know what will walk out of the pitch-black night to attack me.

The transport truck dropped me, along with a handful of new recruits, miles away from our new unit.  The driver pointed us in the direction of a line of posts and ordered us to follow them.  It has not taken long for the bitter cold to take a hold of my mind again; I am quickly reminded of what waits for me.  Lonely, cold guard duty, no food plus wet, endless days of fatigue – these are not treats worth rushing toward.

We are somewhere in the mountains where the snow is deeper and the wind is colder.  No lights are showing, not even a tiny candle glows out of the darkness.  There are no sounds beyond our own laboured breath.  Every step forward has become a haltered, lurching movement without rhythm.  As I cannot see my feet, I repeatedly stumble and fall, preying each time that I do not drop over the edge of a ravine.  After some considerable time, my comrades and I fall onto something hard.  Feeling around, I proclaim it an undamaged bit of road.  Further investigation led us to the base of a gun emplacement, the gun itself having been removed.  It is reassuring to know we are heading in the right direction.

It soon becomes obvious there is no military unit attached to the gun emplacement, although we do come across a lone German soldier.  He can recall a Latvian Legion stationed close by, but he assures us they pulled out some time ago.  His advice is for us to go back the way we came.

For some considerable time we have tried to find our way back up the hill but it is proving easier said than done.  There are no landmarks in the dark.  Being turned around in an unfamiliar terrain is a simple thing to do.

It has started to rain even though the snow remains deep, making each step treacherous.  There is nothing for it but to keep walking.  We walk, walk, walk, and do not stop because we dare not stop.

In spite of our long march, the path is not rising higher.  Although I do not know for sure, I suspect we are not walking back up the mountain toward our drop off point.  It is very unnerving.  We are all frightened because we do not know where we are.  We do not know where the German units are and more importantly, we do not know where the Russians are.

Finally, there is shouting, German voices boom out from the dark.  Initially I am relieved to have found comrades but disappointingly, we are not wanted.  Although I have told them who we are, they will not let any of us stay.  These German soldiers will not accept us because we are not German.  I do not think they trust us.  The officer will not take responsibility for us, he will not let us join them and so we have to keep on walking.  Without realising it, our walk has taken us along a valley.  The valley is the German front line.

Eventually, we come across several cables running along the ground.  By following the cables, we track down a command post.  Thankfully, the commander of that post has phoned someone higher up the chain in an effort to find out where we should be.  I do not mind waiting whilst command finds out who is missing a handful of Latvian recruits.  It is nice to be able to rest in relative safety.

What we have done is very dangerous.  Anyone on either side could have decided to opened fire on us.  Front lines are not lines at all.  Opposing sides are not facing each other in rows.  It is not like in films at all.  Fighting is done in little pockets; each fight is completely separate from the next fight along.  It makes travelling up and down very hazardous.

Unfortunately, we are ordered to go back again, we have to work our way back to where we came from.   We have to keep walking back along the valley until we find our colleagues.

1944-red-army-advances-against-germans

I am assigned to building bunkers.  The Russian attacks never stop.  When they are not hurling their bombs at us, the Red Army is burning everything they come across.  It has not taken long for them to strip the surrounding area of trees, leaving us nothing to cut props out of.  We have resorted to pulling down abandoned buildings for wood.  I salvage as much as I can from ruined cabins because the Russians are throwing everything they have at us, making the need for repair work endless.  The Red Army have hit us with so many bombs; I would have expected them to run out before now.