His father was Ralph Johnson who was a POW for five years
My father Ralph Johnson was a member of the 2/5 Australian General Hospital Unit.
He was captured on his 21st birthday in Greece on the 27 April 1941.
In December 1941 my father along with many others, were loaded into cattle trucks for the nine day journey to Torun, where he spent the next three and a half years in various POW camps, with the majority of the time in Fort XV, Torun.
Dad did not speak about his experiences for 30 years after his return, and it was in the later years of his life that he shared his experiences in a book he wrote for his family.
We are extremely grateful that he did this, as without his recollections we would have little knowledge of his experiences.
So it was with mixed feelings that my wife Rhonda and I, decided that we would visit the town of Torun in Poland, the site of where he spent most of his time as a German POW.
The city of Torun is a beautiful Polish medieval city and well worth a visit for the city sights alone, but the beauty of the town belies the events that occurred in the surrounding countryside during WW11. We had been very fortunate to discover the services of Hania and Pawel Bukowski from the War Time Guides before our visit. So much of what we were able to see, do and experience
was due to their expertise and experience in guiding people who are effectively on a pilgrimage
tracing the wartime footsteps of a parent.
It is hard to put into words what it was like visiting the camps, and in several cases actually standing on the same spot of ground where my father had stood 70 years ago.
Pawel wisely took us to the restored Fort 1V first, and gave us a rich lesson on the history and layout of the Prussian Forts that surround the city of Torun.
Even though my father had not spent any time in Fort 1V, it was quite an emotional experience crossing the moat and entering the gate of the Fort.
The effort that Pawel put into explaining the functioning of this Fort was invaluable in appreciating Fort XV where my father had spent most of his time.
Walking through the main door of Fort XV was even more emotional than entering Fort 1V.
It was when I allowed my thoughts to reflect back to my father entering by the same gate under German guard after what must have been an horrendous train journey in winter from Greece, that the lump grew in my throat and I shed a few tears.
How do you place value on such an experience? It is a moment that I will never forget.
Pawel guided us around the now derelict Fort, through rooms that had been the sleeping quarters,
along dark corridors and past hand pumps where my father had described drawing water.
All the time referring back to what we had seen in the restored Fort 1V to help us make sense of what we were looking at in Fort XV.
Standing at the well where my father had drawn water, and stepping inside the sleeping quarters brought richness to the descriptions Dad had written in his book.
I had often wondered why my father could never share his war time experience and often didn’t share his feelings with others.
But standing in this place there seemed to be some resolution or understanding