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were a practice drill meant to impress the local town mayor. They stopped just short of the little stream at the foot of the embankment, ran out a hose into it and another longer one up to the rail tracks. Then, once more four on each side, they started pumping the long handles of the engine, again in beautiful harmony and timing. It was an almost elegant performance – or it was until, quite unannounced, one of the closed railway vans just above them, and above us too, began to deliver the ammunition with which it was obviously filled in all directions. The van had caught fire, and ammunition which seemed to be of small calibre was exploding and scattering itself indiscriminately, not least towards where we were seated. We had been almost laughing at the sight of the well-drilled local fire brigade as they arrived and began their work. Now we really had difficulty in not laughing out loud, for the team, as one man, dropped their grasp of the pump handles, formed themselves into line, and trotted back over the field in the direction of the town from which they had come. It was as equally beautiful a manoeuvre as their arrival.


But the smile was quickly wiped from our faces as an SS guard came down the embankment, looked at us, and pointed at eight of my companions sitting in our circle. Then he pointed at the fire engine. They had to obey and manned the pump just below where the ammunition van on the tracks above was still showering its cargo in all directions. We sat still and unsmiling for five or six minutes, and the original eight were replaced by another eight from another circle of squatting prisoners.


No-one was hit by the ammunition and when the fires were eventually put out we were gathered together by our guards and returned to the bullet-ridden wagons we had so hastily deserted. Our blanket rolls were still there, but in a sorry state, for they were pierced all over by the Thunderbolts’ cannon shells. Some of their contents were now useless and we had especially lost some of the food, brought from the Red Cross parcels issued at Wetzlar. My two pairs of blue airman’s socks were ruined.


It was at this point that a German guard spotted the Rolex still on my wrist,


broken glass and all, still stopped at 4.23 pm. He took it from me. I never saw it again. We were marshalled for marching away, and left Mucke on foot, but we had learned one useful lesson. We told our German guards that we would never, never use the railway for travel by day. We would rather walk, and it seemed they did not need persuading, for thereafter we kept to road travel by daylight and only boarded any type of rail transport when it was too dark for a Thunderbolt to favour us with its attentions.


I had, after the first few days of pounding the German roads, developed an excruciating pain in both my feet in the process of breaking in the American GI boots. On the way north-east from Mucke, for that is where we were now heading, it got to the point where I was almost unable to walk. Jimmy was a


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