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Impossible is nothing: Wartime Guides

After one year of mailing and conversation via the Internet we met in Torun. That was wonderful time. It gave us a lot of new knowledge, not only about Stalag XXA. Every single trip makes a new relationship, how worthy it is! My name is Sandra Butterfield and this story is about a trip I took to Torun, Poland with my father-in-law Ray Butterfield and my husband Mark. The trip was as a result of Ray’s love for his father Fredrick Butterfield, and the passion and dedication he had developed towards the 2/5 Australian General Hospital in which Fred served. I never met Fred Butterfield, when I met my husband (Mark) Fred had passed away. But he still lived on in Mark’s memories. In the early days of our marriage on Anzac Day, Mark would go and retrieve a blue ice cream container which was full of military buttons and badges that his Pop (Fred) had brought back from the war and gave to him when he was young. Mark would place this container on the kitchen table and proceed to toast his Pop with a beer. The buttons and badges are now framed and hang on the wall. It was when, some years later that our daughter, Emma who was in grade 2,and learning about the war, that she started to ask a lot of questions about her Great Grand Father Fredrick, and from those questions Ray’s interest was sparked. Thirteen years later Mark and I are taking Ray over to Torun, Poland to walk through Fort XV where his father was a POW for 2.5 years. As I said, I didn’t know Fred Butterfield so I did not have an emotional connection to the man. I was going on this trip because we felt it was something that Ray needed to do, so together we arranged for Ray at the age of 81, (sorry Dad for telling everyone your age) and with the help of a fantastic guide Pawel Bukowski, in September 2014 we hopped on a plane and flew to Torun. On the first day we met our guide Pawel, he showed us an excellent presentation on the history of the town including the Forts which during the war were used as storage areas for the Germans and as POW camps. Pawel’s knowledge and dedication to telling the story of the Australian POW’s was amazing. After the presentation it was time to go to Fort XV. I sensed Ray was starting to get emotional, nervous and a feeling of not believing he was going to go to Fort XV, this was apparent when we pulled up at the front gate of the Fort.

Fort XV is not a camp consisting of a series of building above ground, it is a 2 storey bunker style built into a hill with a moat surrounding the complex. There was one way in and one way out…. The front housed the POW’s accommodation so each room had two windows, but mostly the rest of the buildings were underground. Over the past year or so Ray and Pawel have been corresponding. This is due to Ray’s position as Secretary of the 2/5 AGH Association who helped with photos and artefacts to establish the Australian Exhibition project in the Historical-War Museum in Torun.

Ray had sent Pawel some photos which Pop had taken while in the camp. Pawel brought these photos with him and together all four of us talked, discussed and compared what was in front of us to the photos. Pawel took us into the Fort and armed with the photos, we think that Ray at one stage of the tour was standing in the same room his father shared with about twenty odd men for nearly three years.

The other is my favourite –‘a son reflecting on what his father would have been going through living here’

Fort XV over the years has not been looked after. It is dark, smelly and in some areas it is too dangerous to walk around. The parade ground which was once used by POW’s to hold sport days or just to sit on the hill side and breathe in some fresh air and to see some sunlight, is now overgrown, but standing there you get this feeling come over you of what the men would have seen. We spent several hours walking around the Fort imagining what it was like for the POW’s. Pawel’s knowledge of the fort and the research he had conducted on the Australian POW’s is a story that needs to be told. I started to get this overwhelming feeling of admiration for the POW’s who lived there, and that one of them was Sgt. Fredrick Butterfield, who as I said at the beginning of my story, I had no an emotional connection with, but that all changed. The next place to visit was the Polish Historical-War Museum. The curator and co-founder of the museum Piotr Olecki was excited to meet Ray as he was responsible for the donation of many of the items on display for the Australian Exhibition. Some of the items donated were photos Pop had taken while in the camp and an Australian flag.

Again this was a very emotional time for Ray, especially when a young school student spoke to him about the photos on the wall.

The other two days at Torun were filled with Pawel and Hanna (his wife) showing us their beautiful city. We not only enjoyed the sights but we also enjoyed coffee, cakes and a traditional Polish dinner at a fabulous restaurant.

I would highly recommend anyone going to Torun, it is like a hidden gem, and if you are interested in following in the footsteps of your father/grandfather who was a POW in Torun, then you must contact Pawel as his tours are excellent, but not only that he and his wife are lovely people.

As for my husband Mark, his thoughts on the trip; he said “The trip was an emotional one because I was standing in places that Pop had been. I was very proud of my Grandfather, and that I was able to take my father to the Fort and enjoy the experience with him”. And as for my father-in-law RAY’s thoughts, this is what he wrote:-

In September 2014, my son Mark and his wife Sandra, conspired with Pawel and his wife Hanna to take me to Poland to visit the Forts where some the Australian POWs were incarcerated. The highlight of the trip was when Pawel walked with us onto the bridge over the moat, and through the heavy steel doors into the tunnels that housed my father and his mates for such a long period of time. And then to actually sit on the window sill of the window that my father probably peered out of for all those years. I then proved “That Grown Men Do Cry”. This was truly a wonderful experience and I whole heartedly thank and

commend Pawel, Hanna and Piotr for keeping alive the spirit of our Veteran Families

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