• gifts between PoW and their neighbours in 1946

    Less than a year after the end of WW2, German prisoners in Britain found themselves increasingly in contact with local people. Theoretically, any form of fraternisation was illegal until Christmas 1946. Before then, PoW were only allowed outside the camps as workers under strict military supervision. Contact with civilians was supposed to be the minimum required by the needs of employers.

    However, as restrictions became relaxed about how far prisoners could walk unchaperoned outside their compounds, there were inevitable meetings away from supervisors.

    In one country lane near Featherstone Park camp, a prisoner sat on a farm wall in the sunshine to eat the dry bread he had taken with him. An elderly man behind him told him that his wife was preparing hot coffee, and shortly afterwards brought him a cup.

    'This friendly gesture of humanity will stand in my memory until the last day of my life.'

    In the early days, PoW 'felt like outlaws' on the country lanes of Britain and expected only hostility from local people. But chance encounters with their neighbours soon dispelled that feeling and many good friendships evolved that often continued for many years after repatriation, and even into the next generation.

    Very often food would be exchanged - 'a piece of cake, an egg or something else and once even half a loaf of bread, as this worker had a cousin who was a baker.'

    Gradually new friends were invited back to British homes and PoW tried to return the kindness of their hosts. There was a busy trade back at the camp with those who could make small wooden toys for hosts' children in exchange for cigarettes.

    One new friend of a PoW was presented with a detailed relief picture of the Holy Family – beautifully carved into the bottom of a beer barrel, and put together with potassium permanganate. And the family at Featherstone Castle was given a decoratively carved plate rack made by prisoners at the PoW camp in their grounds.

    Eventually, at Christmas 1946, fraternisation was legally allowed, but friendships had already been formed and there many homes that year where local people shared their celebrations with nearby PoW.

    (photo: the plate rack at Featherstone Castle)

    © text Ainslie Hepburn © photo Ainslie Hepburn with permission from John Clark

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