Billy collected his ‘treasures’ together and laid them at the end of his ramshackle bunk in hut 19. There wasn’t a lot to account for three years incarceration at the hands of the sometimes-brutal Germans, but to him they represented his life and more importantly his soul. He thought about the refugees that had filed past the gates of his camp. Old people, women with children, babes in arms, the injured, burned, terrified, deranged. All were fleeing from the horrors. The Christians among them struggling to believe and reconcile their religious beliefs with Nazi cold-blooded excesses and mass murder.
He considered his pitiful little pile: Christmas cards from Penny, her heavily censored letters and her simple but evocative poetry, the hand-made playing cards, two cigarettes, the German soldier’s – Dieter’s – belt buckle and Nathaniel’s penny whistle. Nathaniel. Billy shook his head in regret and fought back the familiar choking feeling that arose in his throat whenever that memory arose. He thrust his dark thoughts aside and continued picking over his possessions. He would take as many clothes as he could carry. He had nothing heavy; he’d given his Bible away, hopefully to someone who would put it to better use than he. Gathering up his things, he tied them into a bundle with his faded and much darned pullover, and slung it over his shoulder. He straightened his back, lifted his head and stood as erect as his gammy leg allowed. I’ll march out of here proudly he thought. Together with his comrades they formed into ranks and marched smartly up to the gates. The weak and sick were supported by their stronger colleagues, their spirits rising. They didn’t know where they were going, but it had to be a better place than this.