Searching Broumov for Captain Roland Webster's Field Hospital on the Long Walk.

Published: May 22nd 2018
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Searching Broumov for Captain Roland Webster Field Hospital

After a month on the Long Walk, in terrible conditions, Captain Webster was near his destination. He went on ahead in a forward party to make arrangements. His diary entries for Braunau (Broumov) continues: ’10.2.45 Went to Hotel Birke, quite nice hotel in a rather dirty medieval town, after seeing Burgomeister (mayor) in his big house, and saw Sheffranek (the German staff physician, a military rank, equivalent of a major or the NATO code OF-3). He gave us beer and told me that Captain Robin Robertson was in Elim Chapel with 60 sick British, and that all Brit., French and Belg. were to go there. And that 400 v.sick Russians were in a factory near station (we had seen from outside). Our Russians to go there. We were to open our Lazerett (hospital) and expect to stay 14 days and pick up as many Brit, French and Russ sick off the roads from the forced Stalag marches. So went and found Elim Chapel just as column arrived. 120 British and Serbs to get into Chapel along with 60 already there, a huge crush. No fuel and no food as town eaten bare by thousands of evacuees.

Will have a bit of work to get under control’.

So the mission we set ourselves was to try and find out what was known in 1945 as the ‘Elim Chapel’. An evangelical, not Roman Catholic, free church building that was big enough to house 180 men.

Further clues were in CW’s text. At the church there was a small garden where a latrine was dug, French slept on a ‘small stage’, officers in a small room, at the foot of the hill, quite near the station, Russians prisoners in a factory nearby

We visited every church in the town and Martincowice, near by.

The Broumov Monastery is as big as Edinburgh Castle on a stony outcrop. There are many Catholic Churches all with a linked architectural style known as the Broumov Cluster. There’s also a ancient wooden church which is under renovation.

One Protestant church had become an undertaker's in a brand new chapel of rest.

But I thought the most likely church was is now a Hussite Church on Husova, to the east of the railway line.

Marion preferred the Wenceslas Church, which had been an RC church and had fallen into some ruin in the run up to the war and may have had ‘cuckoo evangelicals’ using the space. Post WW2 all but a few RC churches were banned and remaining Pentecostal believers would be meeting in people's homes……. so there is no continuous picture that we can find.

Russians in factories: textile factories still dominate the station area and the valley. They make damask woven cottons exported to Africa, Europe and elsewhere. Broumov grew enormously during the industrial revolution because of Benedikt Schroll‘s thriving mechanical linen weaving mills.

VEBA National Enterprise, a Soviet version of the firm was established in 1949. And in 1992 it was successfully privatised again, keeping the name VEBA.

Like many post Soviet towns/cities we’ve visited, Broumov looks a bit ragged….. it’s a rendering problem…. much brick built in 19C with decorative render that eventually erodes away. The outskirts of Riga, Vilnius, Zagreb, Sofia, Belgrade, Bucharest all share the same problem. When they’re renovated, re-roofed and painted they look like brand new. But the money that perhaps only tourism or Europe Union can provide for such work is slow to arrive.

Habana, Cuba, has the same problem: interesting 19C buildings which need new imminent renovation before they fall down.

Roland stayed for three weeks with this Braunau field hospital treating frostbite and malnutrition in a continually changing population of marchers. Abandoned cows and sheep kept wandering into town searching for food, and this proved to be a great source of protein for all (except the unfortunate beasts).

He then went to Nuremberg with a further party by train, then finally marched to Moosberg. When out on a sortie midst German fighting around Moosberg trying to find some Allied wounded Roland met American soldiers and this was his route back home.

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