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Prisoners of War - WWII - 1945
Groups of Men returning - notes from the Newspapers

Rushden Echo and Argus, 20th April 1945, transcribed by Peter Brown

Welcome Home

Simultaneously with the complete lifting of the black-out the first batch of liberated war prisoners has arrived home. It is an inspiring double event, proclaiming that the dreadful war of Hitler's making is nearly over and that the price paid by this nation in its resolute fight for life and freedom has not been in vain.

The prisoners already welcomed at Rushden and Higham Ferrers form only a small percentage of the local men who have been held captive in Germany. A few more may possibly reach home during, the next few days, but it must be remembered that the great majority are still in German hands. This was made quite clear in Parliament on Tuesday, and anxious relatives will do well to recognise the fact: if their loved ones have not yet returned, they must not think of them as exceptions and thereby worry unduly.

Very soon the Bavarian district in which the main prisoner concentrations are believed to exist will be cleared by the Allies, and that will be the critical time. So long as they have wind in their lungs, some of the guilt-crazed Nazis will continue to talk as though they had still a fighting chance. It is sheer gibberish. Every blow against their tottering remnants quickens the pace of the clearing-up, and the more they resist at one spot the faster they crumple at another. From the accounts given by the men already at home it is apparent that experiences varied in different camps. In general it seems to be established that the prisoners fared moderately well up to D. Day, less well from that time up to the beginning of this year, and badly during the last three months, when two factors unfortunately operated together—the impossibility of receiving further Red Cross parcels, and the state of panic into which the Germans were thrown as their enemies closed in from East and West. At the best of times the Germans offered miserable rations and left the rest to our Red Cross; at the worst of times our men were driven ruthlessly along the German roads, spent the nights crowded into hovels, and could only stave off starvation by risking the brutal penalties imposed upon pilferers.

But men who have had such experiences are home again, most of them well and bright, as living proof of what can be endured when the spirit is strong. They have nothing but praise for the Red Cross and the American comrades who liberated and cared for them. We rejoice to see them and most heartily congratulate them on their part in the common triumph against the Nazis' terrible threat to civilisation.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 27th April 1945

Return Of War Prisoners
Our Men Tell Of Their Experiences

Victory's eve in Europe brings the joyous return of local war prisoners whose fortitude in captivity has enhanced their country's good name. Already several Rushden and Higham Ferrers men—most of them well and in high spirits—have returned from Germany with remarkable stories to tell.

Saw Death Camp Atrocities

On his way through Germany after being liberated by the Americans, Gnr. William C. K. Knight, of 39 Grove-road, Rushden, a prisoner of war since 1942, visited the concentration camp at Nordhausen.

"Just come along and have a look at this," said the Americans. Gnr. Knight went through the camp, and at his home on Tuesday morning he told our representative:

"The Yankees told us there had been 10 or 12 thousand at the camp. There were not many alive when we got there. Dead bodies, and one or two just alive, were stretched around on the floor. They were just yellow skin and bone and appeared to have been thrown anywhere. I shall never forget."

Telling of the Americans' firmness in dealing with the S.S. guards, Gnr. Knight declared: "They can't do anything bad enough to these Germans to pay for what has happened in those camps."

Wounded in Desert

When captured by the Italians in the Desert, Gnr. Knight had a bullet wound through the right lung. This has since healed satisfactorialy. He was in Italian hands until September 20th 1943, when the Allies were invading Italy. Being in the northern part of the country, he had no chance of escape and was taken over by the Germans.

"The Italians are perfectly useless," he said. "They couldn’t organise a tea-party. But even the German organisation at times was hopeless. We waited to see it, but nothing much materialised."

In Germany he was sent to a small working camp at Eisleben—Martin Luther's birthplace, about 40 miles west of the Elbe. About 280 British prisoners were there. For a time he worked at a sugar factory and then, until liberation, in a copper mine—about 1,900 feet below the surface.

Used Their Wits

"If you didn't work you got kicked around a bit," he said. "You had to use your wits and make everything as light as possible for yourself. The way those Germans worked is incredible; you would never get an Englishman to work like it. They are just fiends. On the whole we couldn't complain too much about our treatment, and as the Yanks got past the Rhine it got better.

"Since Christmas the Germans told us Germany was beaten. They knew they were finished—except the fanatical Nazis. The Germans themselves were living on bowls of soup and bread, and if that was what they had in the country I would hate to see the towns.

"Had we been forced to live on German rations I am afraid we should have been in the same state as the Poles. It was the Red Cross that kept us going; it was not just food but clothing, games and books. But for them we should have been in a poor way."

Americans Arrive

Describing his liberation on Friday, the 13th of April, he said: "The Germans sent us out to work in the morning, and as we were near the top of a slag heap we heard a battle going on. We climbed to the top and saw a tank battle. The Americans did not know there was a camp there, and they shot us up a bit for a time, but fortunately nobody was hit. When they came along we gave them such a cheer as they had never heard before.

"They walked the guard off and just wanted to know how they had treated us. Those who were not too good were pointed out to them. They said 'O.K. boys: we'll look after them. The country's yours.'"

After waiting a day or so, Gnr. Knight and his comrades hitch hiked across Germany as far as the Rhine. He arrived home on Saturday evening.

Aged 25, Gnr. Knight is the eldest son of Mr. Harry Knight, boot manufacturer, and formerly worked at the Bank of New South Wales in London. Before flying back to England from Frankfort he met at a reception camp another Rushden man Pte. C. S. Mackness, who has also reached home.

March of 1,000 Miles

A rough diary he pencilled on a small piece of paper tells how Bdr. Ronald Coles, of 30, Simpson-avenue, Higham Ferrers, fared at the end of a 1,000-mile march across Germany in company with Pte. Douglas Mantle, of Rushden, and hundreds more British war prisoners. Here are three entries:—

April 4th. Doug's 28th birthday.

April 8th. Ron's 26th birthday. Both of us still in very weak condition. No food.

Friday, 13th April. Recaptured at 2 o'clock by Yanks.

The same scrap of paper, seen by an "Echo and Argus" reporter half an hour after Bdr. Coles had reached his home on Tuesday afternoon, bore a calendar for April and May—drawn by the soldier as the only means of keeping count of the days.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 27th April 1945

Kissed By Women

Bdr. ColesArriving by car, Bdr. Coles had a great welcome from Simpson-avenue and was kissed by 40 or 50 of the women, some of whom were in tears Flags and bunting were displayed in profusion, and a placard inscribed "Welcome Home, Ron"—the work of a little boy—hung from the bombardier's bedroom window. Asked what he would like to eat, Ronald replied, "The first bit of Mother's Yorkshire pudding for four years." He had three helpings.

Captured at El Alamein on July 1st, 1942, he spent 12 months in Italy and was then transferred to Stalag 8B in Upper Silesia, where he received fairly good treatment until January 21st of this year, when Russian guns were heard and the march of 1,500 kilometres, extending over nearly three months, began in deep snow.

Slept In Barns

Ten thousand prisoners, with a strong guard, set out from the camp but presently divided into several sections taking different routes.

Bdr. Coles's section marched to Gorlitz, averaging 25 kilometres a day. They slept on farms in barns and hovels, and a man would sometimes get two or three potatoes off the farmer.

Marching right through Brunswick, the men went into billets outside the town and occupied some days delousing themselves and pretending to work.

"When we reached Brunswick," said Bombardier Coles, "we thought we should be safe from R.A.F. raids because there was not a thing standing of any importance—the place was finished. We heard the Americans were closing in on us."

Leaving on April 9th, they reached a village near Hildeshm, where they heard gunfire in the distance. Informed by a Pole that the prisoners were there, the Americans sent in a message inviting the Germans either to fight or surrender. They surrendered.

Food Scramble

Five minutes later the liberated prisoners were hunting for food. A bakery was open, and they secured bread, molasses, eggs and coffee.

Since early in 1944, when they first met at Stalag 8B, Bdr. Coles and Pte. Douglas Mantle have been inseparable companions.

Elder son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Coles, Bdr. Coles is 26 and formerly worked at Rushden for Mr. Ray Robinson, garage proprietor. In 1941 he married Miss Betty Charlesworth, of Leeds. His wife and his three-years-old daughter Sandra, whom he had never seen, were expected to reach Higham on Wednesday.

Pte. Mantle, who also arrived home on Tuesday is in the R.A.O.C. and was captured by the Italians in 1941. He lives at 86, Irchester-road, Rushden, and is well-known as a former Rushden Town F.C. player.

Worked In Mine For Goering

Driver Alfred WattsDriver Alfred Watts, R.A.S.C., who returned on Tuesday to his home at 7, Bryant Way, Higham Ferrers, has had the doubtful privilege of working in one of Hermann Goering's iron ore mines near Hanover. He flew from Germany to England on Sunday, having been liberated by the Americans oh April 10th.

Taken prisoner by the Italians at Tobruk in 1942, he spent 16 months in Italy, working in a camp near Rome under good conditions.

When the Allies approached the prisoners broke loose into the mountains but failed to get clear of the district. For 13 days they gave much trouble to the Germans, who sent parachutists over the mountains to find them.

Recaptured, Dvr. Watts was sent to Stalag 11B, where the men who worked well fared satisfactorily until the Red Cross parcels ceased to arrive.

"We must praise the Red Cross," he said. "They definitely pulled us through."

Terrified  Villagers

On April 9th the Germans put 250 prisoners on the march, but next day they were overtaken by American tanks. Every village had its white flags out.

For three days the liberated men were billeted on villagers who gave them all available food and good beds. In return the British helped the Germans to obtain coal and milk and kept off marauding Poles and Russians, of whom the villagers were terrified.

Dvr. Watts has maintained fairly good health. The souvenirs he has brought home include a pair of naval dress swords and a saw-edged bayonet—all German.

Dvr. Watts was born at Swineshead, lived at Raunds for a time, and moved to Higham Ferrers nine years ago, working for Messrs. John White until he joined the Army in 1942. He is eager to meet again his brother Percy, who was taken prisoner in North Africa on the same day as he himself was captured.

Release After Five Years

On Tuesday the message, "In England, see you soon," was received from Pte. Francis Bert Hall, of 65, Oakley-road, Rushden, who was taken prisoner while serving with the Northamptonshire Regiment in France in June, 1940.

Unmarried, Pte. Hall is the son of Mr and Mrs. Harry Hall, formerly of Irthlingborough. Before the war he was employed at Burton's Stores, Finedon, and played football with Irthlingborough Thursday.

Atrocities Near Nazi Camp

 Pte.  MacknessCaptured in Tunisia in April 1943, Pte. Charles Sidney Mackness, Northamptonshire Regiment, of 87 Trafford-road, Rushden, is now home from a German prisoner of war camp.

In Italy until September, 1943, he had no work to do there, and the food was pretty good. Transported to Stalag 4D in Germany, he was put on railway work. After D. Day conditions became "rougher" and food was very short.

This camp was composed of all British men—10 from this district— and was at Konnern. On April 13th, when the Americans were "strafing" the area, Pte. Mackness and the others in a working party of 120 men made use of the opportunity to escape into nearby civilian houses. Here, some of the people were eager for the Americans to arrive, believing they would then be better off than they had been under Hitler's regime.

The Americans soon swept through the village, and from them the British received food and cigarettes.

Battered Corpses

Pte. Mackness stopped for three to four hours at the Novdhausen concentration camp. He said he was not surprised at the sights he saw there after seeing in the nearest village the bodies of 24 people who had been battered to death by the Nazis. These victims had been called "political" prisoners.

He gathered the impression that the Germans would not give in while the S.S. men were over them—they had been held down for so long.

Pte. Mackness, who is looking well, has 46 days' leave. He has been in the Army since September, 1939, and previously worked for Messrs. Eaton and Co., being a pigeon flyer and belonging to the Rushden Homing Club and also the Band Club. Aged 27, he is the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. C. Mackness. One of his brothers is in Italy and the other in the Middle East.

Glider Man's Brief Captivity        

Sgt. AshbyAfter a short period in captivity Sgt Walter Ashby, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. Ashby, 48, Spencer-road, Rushden, has been liberated and is again in this country.

In March the sergeant, who belongs to the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, landed east of the Rhine in a glider. He was officially reported missing, but his relatives heard from other sources that he had been taken prisoner and was not wounded. Aged 32, Sgt. Ashby has been in the Army 15 years and did much of his peacetime service in Burma.  He was born at Kettering, but moved to Rushden when 12 months old and before joining the Army worked for the Tecnic Boot Co., Rushden.

The sergeant's wife, who had staying in Rushden, left for their home in the South of England on hearing of her husband's release.

Rushden Echo & Argus, 27th April 1945

Arnhem Captive Coming Home

Captured at Arnhem, Pte. Gordon William Bridgeford, South Staffordshire Regiment, of 59, Irchester-road, Rushden, has wired to his parents: "Arrived safe. See you soon. Love, Gordon." The telegram arrived on Thursday afternoon and flags were immediately displayed on the house.

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