Going Home

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Going home.

A true story of war's end - and getting home, as personally authored by Ted Ahner who has lived in Canada for more than 60 years. 

It was the 10th of May 1945. It was the worst of times. Our unit had broken up and we were told to get up on the few Panthers that were still operating on the Eastern Front. The four of us climbed on, there was enough room on top. The tanker crew went inside and the Panther roared off, roughly in a northerly direction. We were somewhere in northern Czechoslovakia. The tankers told us to watch for the Russian T34s. "How do we know they are there", we asked. They howl like this: "Grrrrr". "Right", we said.  We could not hear anything over the roar of the Panther anyway. But we tried to listen for the "Grrrrr". When the tank commander came up and looked out we asked where we are going, "Home" he just said. "What about the war" I asked. He shrugged "It's over". We did  not know that. "What about those T34s?", "Keep your eyes open and let us know". And off we went. We stopped after a while, the few other Panthers were there too. We ate what we had, went into the bushes, a few shells came over and crashed close by. The tankers were in a hurry now. "Go-go-go!", and we took off again.

After a while we came to a village. All deserted, maybe the people were all hiding. One woman came out and  talked with us. She did not want to come along. "We are the last ones," She said, "The Russians come next".  Her daughter came out too. They had a hidden cellar and she was to hide there. "We stay here" they said. So we had to leave them.

It was a good thing that we were with the tankers now. They had their wireless and knew what was going on. We had not seen our group commander for days now. Who knew where the rest of our company was? We stuck to our tank, and they were grateful that they had extra eyes outside. The tankers all had great respect for the T34s. We felt the same now.

The tankers were going to join up with the Americans and go with them against the Russians. We could not believe that the Allies would let them take over half of Europe.

We played cat and mouse with the Russians. Not getting too close to them. Always trying to stay ahead of that "growling". Coming through one village the driver started to swear, stopped the tank and banged around inside, came up and threw a few odd pieces of his machinery out, told us all to get away and run, dropped a grenade inside and closed the hatch. A big bang and we were on foot now. The supply truck came, we piled in the back, our driver at the wheel and we went on, always going north. To the border and home. On a plateau we stopped and unloaded the ammunition from the truck. Not needed anymore. On we went, there were more Germans around now. The road was going up a hill. On it was pandemonium. The road was lined with equipment. Cars, trucks, guns, the last remnants of Schörner's army. (Even he could not stop the Russians). Some drivers let their trucks roll down the hill. The last "fun" of a defeated army. Our truck stopped. "Out of gas, walk now, get going - or do you want to go to Siberia?" I still had my gun in my arms. An older sergeant stopped me "Come on son, let's go home now. We have capitulated. Leave your gun here." So I did, thinking what a shame it was to throw away such a nice gun. I was young, most of the other soldiers were looking old. The idea that we had lost the war was still new to me.

The sargent stopped a truck, he got in the cab, I and a few others got into the back. It was a new truck. On we went again. Villages were deserted, or people were hiding. We just kept going north, towards the German border. Towards Zittau, we were told. We were glad to get out of Czechoslovakia, They did not like us and we just wanted to go home. No more war.

On we went. The Russians are ahead, we were told, but we had no choice. We had to go across the river there to get onto German soil and see how we could manage it.

Driving on and on, tired, sleeping and waking, bumping along in the truck, finally, Zittau, the bridge is still there. Through the town in the early morning. Russians, on the road, stopping us, pointing into a courtyard, everybody off the truck. Who can speak the Russian language. The tankers are still. I said that I know some Latin from school. "Then you talk with them". A Russian says something like "Nja domo", It rings a bell, Domo, home maybe. Go home. I nod, "Nja domo", we all say. All smile, even the Russians.

THE PAINTING (Above..)

 A Russian with red epaulettes comes, looks at our new truck and tells me something. But I can only say "Nja domo", hoping it means we want to go home. He draws a small sketch of a truck and points at himself. Oh no, I'm thinking, he wants the truck. He draws another sketch of a tractor nearby. Yes, it could be that.. and he points at us. I look at our driver and he nods. Just let's get out of here, he seems to say. So we're all nodding now, looking at an old Lanz "Bulldog" tractor. Our driver takes a blowtorch from a box on the Lanz, lights it - and puts it under the single cylinder head. After a couple minutes he takes the steering wheel off and puts it on a "flywheel looking" thing and turns the wheel over and abruptly, the Lanz runs with that hard exhaust sound it has. It is already hooked up to a trailer and we all jump on that. The driver puts the steering wheel back where it should be and we drive off, waving back at the Russians, who look quite happy about that deal they made. We just hope they don't change their minds about us.

Away we go, driving on the road towards the West. proceeding at the farm tractor's top speed until it finally stops. Out of fuel. We're on foot again but happy to have gone this far.

We now had to split up. The others were going south-west, I wanted to go north-west. We said good-bye to each other and went on. I stopped at a farm and asked for a change of clothes so I would not stick out as a soldier, but could pretend that I was just a student. I got some purple pants, an old jacket and then walked on after getting a meal from the farmer's wife. And there the questions started to come. Have I seen this or that person? A soldier who had not been heard from for a long while. Everywhere I stopped for lunch or supper time at a farm everyone had lost someone.

Still I walked on. I came to a bridge over a part of the Autobahn going north-south. The bridge had been destroyed, was hanging on an angle to one side but it looked as if one could still walk over it. So I did. Then I saw the Russian troops lined up on the eastern side. Every fifty meters or so one soldier was standing with his machine-pistol on the ready. I kept walking. They were watching me. I had the urge to wave at them but then decided that maybe it was not the thing to do at that moment. So I kept walking.

Then I was out of the Russian Zone. In another three weeks of walking I would be home in Wilhelmshaven. And I was. Dad opened the door and hugged me, then Mom was there and first thing she did was put me in the bathtub. Nja domo, Home.