Wednesday, June 22, 2022 is the 81st anniversary of the beginning of Operation Barbarossa—Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR in 1941 and the beginning of the Second World War in eastern Europe. To mark the date, BestSelling Reads presents an excerpt from Army of Worn Soles, the true story of a Canadian man drafted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941.
Maurice led his boys behind a stream of Red Army units down a forest path worn and widened by thousands of men. Most of the enlisted men were barefoot, their felt boots worn away. Even the officers’ uniforms were tattered. Men, not horses, pushed or pulled wagons or dragged crates of ammunition behind them.
After a half-hour, the forest opened to a wide glade filled with the Red Army. Men collapsed into the tall grass, dropping their weapons on the ground without bothering to stack them. No fires burned. There was no food to eat.
Maurice led his odalenye to a clear spot near the edge of the forest. “Stack your rifles, boys.” They stacked them in a circle and arranged the parts of the anti-tank guns beside them. Then they collapsed like the rest.
“Think we’re safe here?” Orest asked.
“Safe as anywhere from Fritz,” Yuri said.
“Are we safe from the Russians?” another private—Slawko—said in a low voice Maurice could barely hear. “We could slip into the woods, hide until Fritz goes past us, then sneak back home.”
“Quiet,” Maurice said, hissing. “The commissars hear everything.” He looked over each shoulder, but didn’t see Matvienko or any of the other political officers. For that matter, he couldn’t spot another officer in the clearing. Where was the major on his worn-out nag?
“Why do you worry about the Russians?” Slawko said. “Stalin ordered scorched earth. We had to burn our own homes down.”
“It’s the same all over Russia,” Orest said.
“We burned down farms in Ukraine,” Slawko said. “Not in Russia. And Stalin’s Georgian. What does he care about Ukraine?”
Maurice leaned into the circle of men. “If a commissar hears even a whisper about desertion,” he said as loudly as he dared, “he’ll shoot all of us without hesitation.”
Slawko’s eyes darted to every man in the odalenye before he slumped back into the grass. Maurice let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. Then he heard a rumble. He turned just in time to hear four men yell at once. “Halt.”
All around the perimeter of the clearing, men wearing grey uniforms and holding submachine guns stepped out of the woods.
They were captured.
This June 22, 2022 is also the launch of Beyond Barbarossa: the first English-language podcast to focus on the history of the Eastern Front of World War II. It’s produced and hosted by author Scott Bury. You can hear it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean and most major podcasters.Find out more about Beyond Barbarossa.
Army of Worn Soles
1941: Their retreat across Ukraine wore their boots out—and they kept going. Three months after drafting him, the Soviet Red Army throws Maurice Bury, along with millions of other under-trained men, against the juggernaut of Nazi Germany’s Operation Barbarossa, the assault on the USSR. Army of Worn Soles tells the true story of a Canadian who had to find in himself a way to keep himself alive—and the men who followed him.
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After a 20-year career in journalism, Scott Bury turned to writing fiction. First was “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, followed by “Dark Clouds,” a paranormal short story for grown-ups. The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.
The Eastern Front trilogy tells the true story of Maurice Bury, a Canadian drafted into the USSR’s Red Army to face the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It comprises Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War.
Then came a series of mysteries and action thrillers, including the Hawaiian Storm series: Torn Roots, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, and Dead Man Lying.
His latest venture is a the first English-language podcast to focus on the Eastern Front of World War II, Beyond Barbarossa.
He lives in Ottawa with his two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a very understanding wife.