Freedom?—?the eternal struggle

2013-12-11 00:00

SINCE the beginning of time, human beings have struggled for freedom. When created, humans were already handicapped in not being able to fly or breathe underwater, but that was the least of their problems.

Throughout history, freedom has been a seed sown deep in a person’s soul —  the ability to roam freely, live comfortably and do things without being monitored, arrested, beaten up and, in many instances, killed.

Leaders have struggled for freedom around the world, none more so than our beloved Nelson Mandela and he too, through severe oppression, took to violence to indicate how serious he was about achieving his goal.

In most instances, struggles for freedom have been as a result of political upheaval, as weaker people and organisations are stomped underfoot as the oppressors leave nothing to chance in enforcing their laws and their will.

The world still reels from ongoing fights for freedom, and books are still being written about the daring heroics of prisoners of war during World War 2.

One such book, Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?, tells the story of a 20-year-old private who was taken prisoner in May 1940. It’s not a book on a bestseller list by any means, but rather one that lies hidden on the shelf. Yet it tells a story of great magnitude and threw a different light on what freedom meant to the young men behind barbed wire.

Stories of men and women risking their lives burrowing to freedom are common, but this story is about a man who set his heart on freedom for a woman. It’s a story which, at times, seems fiction. Horace Greasley is the main character and the book was written when he was in his eighties and decided to tell his story of freedom.

Once captured, he endured a 10-week march across France and Belgium, heading for Holland. He ended up in a camp in Poland, and it was here that his journey to “get one over his captors and oppressors” began. There was no violence, killing or betrayal in his cause, but ironically his modus operandi was one of love and desperation.

Working in a quarry, moving and smashing rocks, he saw the teenage daughter of the quarry owner and his manly instincts took over. He discovered she was not German and, on his first sight of her, managed to follow her into a toolshed where he approached her and eventually made love to her.

As Greasley points out, he was a prisoner for virtually the whole duration of the war and there were times when the touch and feel of a woman were all he and his mates craved, as a sign of their freedom. He was fortunate in being able to satisfy his sexual appetite as, after his first meeting with the woman called Rosa, it became routine for them to sneak away and create their own moment of freedom. Their relationship continued throughout the war, even when Greasley moved camp. Through a letter delivered to one of the prisoners in a work party outside the camp, it transpired that the village in which Rosa lived was about 20 kilometres away.

They renewed contact and over the next few years, Greasley’s dash for freedom evolved around his wartime love. With help from his friends, he broke out of camp more than 200 times, sometimes three times a week, to rendezvous with her, meeting in the woods at a chapel where they lit candles and made love. Greasley persuaded her to bring him radio parts so a radio could be built and hidden in the camp, allowing the prisoners to tune into the BBC.

As the Russians closed in, Greasley instructed Rosa to flee, to escape the wrath of the Red Army. She did, and after the war they corresponded for a while before it all ceased. Greasley later found out that Rosa had died giving birth to their child, which she named after him. The child died soon after birth.

It’s one story of many for freedom, yet it’s one with a touch of love thrown in. Ironically, Mandela’s struggle for freedom also ended, shrouded more in love and forgiveness than the initial instinct of violence. The world needs stories like this to show the triumph of the human spirit. It’s not about who is the strongest or who has more power. It’s about what’s in a person’s soul and heart, and their attitude towards others. That is the final victory of the human spirit, not a trail of dead bodies and mayhem.

• David Knowles is a sports reporter at The Witness.

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