9.Across the Caspian Sea to Persia

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The good news finally came – there was a train! Accustomed to military discipline we marched to the station in full military dress loaded down with haversacks, mess tins and water bottles. We reached the railway station completely exhausted but there wasn’t a train. Would it ever come?

Finally, it arrived. Our patience was almost at an end and with our nerves stretched to breaking point we weren’t able to climb calmly into the wagons – once again goods wagons. We threw ourselves like madwomen at the wide, open doorways pushing and pulling at each other so as not to be left on the platform and especially not to be left behind in this inhuman country.

Unable to climb inside by any other means I grabbed hold of a wheel. Someone very kindly gave me a push. I don’t know very much about the subsequent journey. But the next scene  I remember was Dantesque in appearance. We lay side by side half dead among our baggage on the docks at Krasnovodsk. We were semiconscious and by nightfall,  I wasn’t able to stand up by myself or to see anything around me. It’s what’s called day-blindness and is caused by a lack of vitamins in the body. At one point just like a guardian angel, my father appeared at my side – his camp must have been nearby – and I regained hope. Eventually we found ourselves – I don’t know how – on a boat packed tightly in the hold.

Most of us were suffering from diarrhoea and so we often had to  go to the toilet. On returning to the hold it was quite impossible to find any space, even standing up for there were people everywhere; on benches, on tables, under tables and it was quite impossible to get past them. I found myself in this situation and didn’t know what to do when I suddenly heard someone calling my name. I was lifted up, seized by the shoulders and hauled up through the empty  lift shaft onto the deck where I was able to breathe the fresh sea air.

That night while sleeping on the bare deck I was woken up by voices. I didn’t know what was happening. The following day my father who kept a distant eye on me told me it was the burial of two young people who’d been poisoned by drinking wood alcohol (Methanol). It was a very sad accident indeed.  

We soon reached the Persian coastline. Once again, I don’t remember how. Apparently, we were taken in a small boat, and found ourselves on a sandy dune-like shore. Iron rations were then distributed but before I could reach them I collapsed in a complete state of exhaustion. We spent our first night of freedom accompanied by the howling and barking of jackals and hyenas.

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