One hundred years ago, the subject of my historical trilogy, The Eastern Front, was born. In honour of this centennial, here is an excerpt from his story, in the third volume, Walking Out of War. This story that Maurice told me could have happened on that early April day in 1945.
Prussia, April 1945
They reached a farming village in the afternoon. Maurice saw Commissar Sorkin say a few words to the captain, who then passed them to the lieutenants. Schwatchko passed the orders to Sergeant Nikolaev and the boys.
“Go into the houses and get some food. And whatever else we can use,” he said. “Go two by two.”
“Just take things?” Mykhailo asked.
“You can say ‘please’ if you want to,” Schwatchko answered. He took Grigory Kornev with him. Corporal Shewchuk took Old Stepan.
“Mykhailo and I will check out that farmhouse over there,” Maurice said to the corporal. He pointed at a trim, neat white house set a little apart from the village. He wasn’t sure whether the corporal had heard him, but Shewchuk did not object when Maurice cuffed Mykhailo on the shoulder and started toward the house. “Don’t wait for us,” he joked. “We’ll catch up.”
The farmhouse was modest by German standards, but spectacular compared to most houses in Ukraine. It had escaped war damage so far, other than having the surrounding fields churned by treads, wheels and thousands of marching feet and the fences knocked down by tanks.
Maurice stepped onto the small porch and knocked boldly on the door.
A small, very nervous looking man in a white shirt and black vest opened. “Good morning, Herr bauer (farmer),” said Maurice in his polite, high-school German. “Would you have some bread for a hungry soldier of liberation?”
The farmer said nothing, but stood to one side. Maurice followed the farmer to his kitchen, where a thin blond woman stood beside the counter and two young girls hid behind her. Maurice nodded at Mykhailo, who quickly checked in every room, rifle aimed. “It’s clear,” he called in a minute. “No one else here.”
Maurice sat down at the kitchen table, setting his rifle within reach. He marveled at how clean and neat the whole house was. It had been months since he had seen any building that wasn’t an army edifice, rough and ready—they were clean, but not like this house. There were little decorations all over, crocheted doilies on the table and counters. There was running water and even an electric light on the ceiling—although it wasn’t working now.
Mykhailo sat at the table across from Maurice. “Is this the whole family?” he asked.
Maurice repeated the question in German.
“Our older son was killed two years ago in Ukraine,” the farmer said, putting his arm around his wife’s shoulders.
“Ukraine!” Mykhailo exclaimed in poor, heavily accented German. “That’s where we’re from.”
Maurice shook his head. “They don’t want to hear that now, Myko,” he said in Russian. He turned to the farmer and went back to German. “Do you have anything to eat?”
The farmer’s wife put a plate of bacon on the table, another stacked with hand-sliced bread, and then returned to the wood stove to make tea. Famished, Maurice and Mykhailo tore into the unexpected feast.
The farmer ushered his wife and daughters out of the kitchen. Maurice moved his chair so that he could see where they sat, in the living room. Where would they go? Outside are nothing but more Red Army soldiers.
Walking Out of War
Ukraine, 1944: After the Soviets burned the Ukrainian city of Ternopyl to the ground to crush the stubborn Nazi occupiers, they rounded up every remaining Ukrainian man around for the Red Army’s final push on Germany. Maurice Bury, Canadian citizen, Ukrainian resistance fighter and intelligence officer, is thrust once again into the death struggle between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR.
Fighting across the Baltics in the autumn of 1944 is tough and bloody. Then the Red Army enters Germany, where they’re no longer liberators—they’re the long-feared Communist horde, bent on destruction, rape and revenge. The Communists are determined to wipe Nazism from the face of the earth. And the soldiers want revenge for Germany’s brutal invasion and occupation.
Maurice has determined his only way out of this hell is to survive until Nazi Germany dies, and then move home to Canada. But to do that, he’ll have to not only walk out of war, but elude Stalin’s dreaded secret police.
“Full of heart and indomitable spirit”—Joy Lorton, Amazon reviewer
Find it as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon.
The true story of Maurice Bury, a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941, just in time to face Operation Barbarossa, the greatest land attack in history—Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. It comprises Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War.