RAF Music Services News

Resilience: Royal Air Force in Remembrance.

Ex Per Ardua Eagle – 75th Anniversary of the Long March

In 1944, towards the end of World War Two, Soviet soldiers were edging ever closer into German territory.  It was ordered within Hitler’s Defence of the Reich, issued in July of 1944, that allied Prisoners of War (POWs) held in eastern Germany were to be evacuated from their camps and force-marched west, away from the imposing easterly pressure.  Resultingly, during one of the harshest winters of the 20th Century, an estimated 80,000 allied POWs were force-marched a cumulative 1000 miles towards Western Germany in 1944-1945.  It is from this unimaginable scenario, that many accounts of both immense struggle & sacrifice, and incredible resilience & gallantry were formed.

On the 13th-18th February 2020, over 50 Royal Air Force personnel from multiple stations across the UK took part in ‘Ex Per Ardua Eagle – 75th Anniversary of the Long March’.  A six-day exercise which re-traces and remembers the resilient footsteps of those POWs in 1944-1945.  Focusing on the evacuation that took place in January 1945 from Stalag Luft III in Zagan to Spremberg Station, the replicated 60-mile journey on foot aims to facilitate comprehension and understanding of the extreme adversity faced by the POWs in World War Two .  The physical and mental challenges posed by the Exercise aim to enhance the resilience and personal development of current serving personnel.

Royal Air Force Music Services were proud to be able to provide a Trumpeter, Senior Aircraftman Adam Rosbottom, to take part in the Exercise and contribute to the multiple Services and Commemorations throughout the journey.

Prior to the start of the Long March Exercise, personnel flew into Germany to visit the Berlin War Cemetery, which is one of three Commonwealth War Cemeteries in the country’s capital.  The majority of those buried in this location served in RAF Bomber Command, losing their lives in the allied strategic bombing campaign over Berlin and Eastern Germany.

During the visit of the cemetery, personnel conducted contemplative discussions about past and present military topics and gathered to hold a poignant service to remember those who have fallen.

The following day, after travelling to Zagan, Poland: personnel visited Stalag Luft III, which is the location of The Great Escape to learn about the significance of the camp throughout World War Two.

Led by Marek Lazarz, the Director of the Stalag Luft III Museum; RAF Personnel toured the site where POWs were located during World War Two.

In between the multiple tours and discussions during the visit of Stalag Luft III, it was a great privilege for personnel to travel to the centre of Zagan and form up on parade in Maczek Square for the 75th Anniversary Commemoration Service of the Long March.

With the Mayor of Zagan, Mr Andrzej Katarzyniec in attendance, RAF personnel were alongside a Polish Army Guard of Honour and Marching Band. During the sounding of the Last Post, Squadron Leader Steve Parlor took the salute on behalf of the RAF.
During the Service, supported by Padre, Squadron Leader Neil Galloway: wreaths were laid on behalf of both the RAF by Wing Commander Suzanne Senior and the RAF Ex-POWs Association by Squadron Leader (Retired) Bob Ankerson.

Following the emotional Service, it was then time for the Long March element of the Exercise to begin!

Day 1 (20 miles): Stalag Luft III – IIowa School & Church – Gozdnica – Lipna Barns.

The first steps of many as the contingent departed from Zagan and headed for Lipna Barns.


A moment of rest and reflection at IIowa Church


A morale boost! Local families warmly welcomed the marching personnel through their villages.


The arrival into Lipna Barns signified the end of Day 1 where personnel rested for the night.  Lipna Barns is where the POWs took shelter in January 1945 to rest amongst cattle and other livestock, huddling for warmth to combat against the persistent freezing temperatures.

Day 2 (20 miles): Lipna Barns – Przewoz – Leknica – Bad Muskau.

At the start of day 2, personnel gathered around a plaque unveiled at Lipna Barns in 2019 by the late Air Commodore Charles Clarke, who was one of the POWs in the Long March during World War Two.  Thoughts turned to his memory and all POWs during the reflective service.