• conflicting religious feelings at Featherstone Park in 1946

    When a new Commandant replaced the much-liked and highly respected Colonel Vickers at Camp 18 in September 1946, he was critical of much that he saw and

    'declared that Featherstone was no longer a PoW camp but a Christian Democratic Village.'

    The following month he asked a prisoner who was an architect to design a chapel for all denominations. A Nissen hut in the British section of the camp was made available, and the newly constructed chapel was consecrated six months later.

    Pastor Martin Niemöller was invited to the camp as a lecturer. He was currently on a tour of PoW camps in Britain, speaking to prisoners on the question of 'guilt'. But, as the Commandant at Featherstone noted,

    'I am afraid he was a little too straight for some of the Germans on the question of responsibility.'

    The PoW wrote about their ambivalence in the camp newspaper. They explained that although they respected Niemöller for his resistance to Hitler and his incarceration,

    'It does not mean that these men reject the Christian ethic as such; but they doubt very much whether it can be realised.'

    Martin Niemöller was at this time a controversial figure of resistance to Hitler for many people. Although he had suffered in a German concentration camp for seven years, he had earlier held strong nationalist views and supported Hitler's ideas. After the war, Niemöller was keen to atone for his past and promote peace and reconciliation, and he was concerned that the average German was not really learning lessons from the past.

    At Featherstone in the same month, October 1946, there were plans for the prisoners to take part in the forthcoming Harvest Thanksgiving at Hexham Abbey – especially for those PoW who had helped local farms to bring in the harvest. A thousand prisoners attended the service, and also provided a large choir and orchestra. The Commandant and the German PoW leader each read a lesson and a Newcastle pastor gave a short sermon in German.

    The local papers were full of praise and gratitude,

    'The “enemy” in our midst. But he has beaten his sword into a ploughshare.'

    (photo: Hexham Abbey)

    © text Ainslie Hepburn © photo Ainslie Hepburn

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