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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.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 18th May, 1945, transcribed by Gill Hollis

More Than Half Are Now Home
Prison Life Described By Local Men

  Several more local men have arrived home this week after liberation from prison camps, and our records show that more than half of the Rushden and Higham Ferrers men held in Germany have now returned.  Of those not yet accounted for, some may have been liberated by the Russians.

  Cpl. Clifford Homan, Lincolnshire Regiment, of 18, Newton-road, Rushden, who arrived home on Monday, was captured in Tunisia of March 3rd, 1942.  He was taken to Italy and remained there until the capitulation of that country.

  It was in September that he went to Germany – first to Stalag 7A near Munich and then to Stalag 7D outside Vienna.  In a working camp near the village of Wels, he was engaged on forestry work.  The working hours were from 7 a.m. till 5 p.m.  Austrian civilians were in charge, and they dealt very leniently with the prisoners, who right up to the time of liberation received a good supply of Red Cross parcels.

  The Britishers procured a small wireless set and listened to the British midnight news in their room, then getting their maps out and checking up on the progress of the Allies.

  A week before the American Army liberated them they finished work.  The Austrian people in the village welcomed the idea of the Americans getting there before the Russians, and expected to be showered with food and cigarettes, of which they were short; but all they saw was armour and guns.

  Cpl. Homan told how in the village of St. Georgeim there was a strong partisan movement.  The local doctor and dentist, who had been good at letting the prisoners know the news, were the leaders.  They planned to capture some Nazi officials and keep them at the camp until the arrival of the Americans, but the liberators were quicker than expected, and the need did not arise.

  Sunday, May 6th, was the day of liberation, but the prisoners remained at the camp until the following Thursday and then flew home.

  Cpl. Homan (26) was among the first six who enlisted at Rushden on June 1st, 1939, and was called up in October, having been employed by Messrs. John White, Ltd., belonging to Impregnable Cricket XI and playing football for Rushden Adult School.  He went to France in April 1940, and was evacuated from Dunkirk in the June.  He is the third son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Homan.

In Orchestra

  Gnr. Graham White, Northumberland Hussars, who returned to his home at 43, High-street South, Rushden, on Sunday, has during his captivity in Germany been playing in a camp dance orchestra and light orchestra.

  After being taken prisoner in Libya in April, 1941, he was taken to Italy and subsequently to Stalag 11A near Magdeburg in Germany.  Here he learned to read music and became proficient on a guitar.  Playing in the orchestra exempted him from doing any other work.

  In April the captives were marched for 200 kilometres from the camp linking up with other contingents to make a column of 5,000.  The march lasted a fortnight and the American Army then came along.

  Gnr. White, aged 30, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. T. White, and before service had his own dry-cleaning business in the town.

Refused To March

  Pte. Peter Woodhams, Sherwood Foresters, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. I. Woodhams, of 81, Midland-road, reached home on Monday.

  Captured at Anzio in March, 1944, Pte. Woodhams was in camps in the north of Italy before transfer to Germany.  Here he was principally in Camps 344AB and 7A, and was put on building work.  Red Cross parcels came through regularly and treatment was fairly good.

  On January 23rd the men commenced a 900-mile march from Knurow, reaching Moosbury on May 3rd.  They then refused to march further, and when the American Army arrived the guards had disappeared.

  Aged 20 years, Pte. Woodhams has been in the Army for two years.  Previously he worked for the London Central Meat Co.

Spent VE-Day in Paris

  Captured by the Germans in Greece on April 29th, 1941, Sergt. Joseph Thomas Ekins, R.A.S.C., second son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Ekins, of 27, Harborough-road, Rushden, is home again.

  Apart from a few weeks in a prison camp in Greece and various camps in Germany, he was in Stalag 383, south of Nuremburg.  This was an N.C.O.’s camp and no work had to be done.  The camp was socially organised by the men themselves.

  Owing to the approach of General Patton’s army of 5,000 prisoners were marched off from that district, but a fortnight later – on May 1st – they were overtaken by the Americans.  A few days before this, however, Sergt. Ekins and two others “cleared off.”  They made their way through the American transport lines and across the Rhine and Siegfried Line, arriving in Paris for VE Day.  From Le Havre an American ship brought them to England.

  During his captivity Sergt. Ekins met two local men, both of whom are now home – Battery Sergt.- Major Fennell and Douglas Mantle.

  Sergt. Ekins has been in the Army for five years, previously working in the R.I.C.S. office and belonging to the Adult School Choir.  He went to Palestine in January, 1940, and was there for 12 months before going to Greece.

Delayed In Hospital

  Sergt. Walter Ashby, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. Ashby, 48, Spencer-road, Rushden, became a prisoner in March after landing East of the Rhine by glider.

  Near the end of April his parents and wife received a message from one of his comrades which led them to expect that he would soon be returning home.  No further news, however, arrived until Thursday May 10th, when Sergt. Ashby sent the following telegram:  “Out of hospital to-day.  Hope to see you soon.”

Stewed Grass for Dinner

  A Flying Fortress from an aerodrome near Kettering brought Gdsmn. Jack Sanders, of 111, Newton-road, Rushden, back to England from Linz in Austria – a flight of 4½ hours.

  Gdsmn. Sanders who joined the 5th Grenadier Guards in June, 1940, went out to North Africa in March, 1943, and took part in the Anzio landing the following October.  He became a prisoner in January of last year, when a German officer shot him through the stomach and arm with a revolver.  “I am the one who shot you,” said the officer, coming forward a few moments later.

  Until May, Gdsman. Sanders was at various hospitals in Italy.  He was then taken into Austria, remaining in hospital until August, when he entered Stalag 398 at Pupping, near Linz.  His wounds made him unfit for work, and early this year he returned to hospital to await examination by the Repatriation Commission, narrowly missing the February repatriation.

  When the Americans were making battle half a mile away the German doctor, accompanied by an English doctor, went out with a white flag and surrendered the hospital.  This was on May 5th, and 82 Britishers and Americans were released, among them soldiers named Curtis of Bugbrooke, and Briggs, of Islip, both of whom were with Jack Sanders on the flight to England last Friday.

  While in hospital Gdsman. Sanders saw civilians cutting grass and weeds.  He wondered why they were doing this, but discovered the reason at dinner-time, when the patients were served with stewed grass flavoured with beech leaves.  Fortunately, Red Cross parcels reached the hospital regularly up to the time of liberation.

  The prisoners often saw fleets of Italy-based Allied bombers attacking the Linz district, and always gave the airmen a cheer.  Sometimes the planes rocked an acknowledgement.  A tank factory was one of the targets, and the prisoners always knew when it had been damaged because many of the civilians became unemployed.

  Only a week before the homeward flight commenced, the airfield from which the Fortresses took off was being bombed by American, British and Russian planes.

  Originally a builder by trade, Gdsmn. Sanders was working at the Rushden garage of the United Counties Omnibus Company just before enlistment.

More Arrivals

  Others who have arrived home or in England this week include Gnr. A. G. Penn, 3, Portland-road, Rushden; Driver H. D. Keller, 21, Newton-road, Rushden; A.C.1 Arthur Sears, 4, Dayton-street, Rushden; Sgt. Donald Parker (glider pilot), 85, Spencer-road, Rushden; Cpl. A. Rowthorn, 15, Headingly-road, Rushden; Sgt. C. W. Case, R.A.F., 2, Portland-road, Rushden; Lance/Bdr. R. Denny, Rushden; Tpr. H. Welsford, 3, Jones’s-cottages, Victoria-road, Rushden; and Pte. Reg. Bird, 17, Westfields, Higham Ferrers.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 25th May, 1945, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Airman Returns From Baltic

  Flt. Sergt. Clifford W. Case, R.A.F., nephew and adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Scroxton, of 2, Portland-road, Rushden, arrived home from captivity on Monday, May 14th.

  He baled out from his ’plane following a raid on Frankfurt on March 19th, 1944, and landed on a fir tree in a forest.  He was taken prisoner and went to Stalag Luft 1, near Barth, right on the Baltic coast.

  Liberation by the Russians came on Saturday, May 5th, and the next Saturday he flew from Barth at 4.30 p.m. and was in England at 7.30 p.m.

  Tpr. Harley Welsford, Royal Tank Regt., second son of Mrs. W. Bass, of 3, Jones’s Cottages, Victoria-road, Rushden, was captured in June, 1942, and was in Italy before transfer to Stalag 8B in Germany.  On January 21st he was put on a 1,000-mile forced march and on April 30th he was released by the Americans, subsequently flying home.

  Pte. Reg Bird, Royal Canadian Regt., son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Bird of 17, Westfields, Higham Ferrers, was captured on December 18th, 1944, in Italy, and a month later was taken to Stalag 7A near Munich, in Germany.  The Americans liberated him on April 27th.

  Other local men released include Sapper George Wm. Chapman, 157, Irchester-road, Rushden; Pte. Wm. Arthur Litchfield, 5, Alfred-street, Irchester; J. Holmes, 131, Higham-road, Rushden; Cpl. L. P. Mole, 39, Midland-road, Rushden; C.S.M. Kilmister, 6, Fletcher-road, Rushden (has written from Germany); Gnr. D. Taylor, 21, Westifeld-avenue, Rushden; Cpl. E. A. Edwards, 27, Hall-avenue, Rushden; Pte. William Smith, 26, St. Margaret’s-avenue, Rushden.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 25th May, 1945, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Worked in Dresden Boot Factory

  Captured at Arnhem after nine days’ fighting there, L/Cpl. David H. Shellard, Border Regt., reached his home at 5, Hall-avenue, Rushden on Monday afternoon.

  After capture he was taken into Arnhem and marched for 20 miles to a railhead, then through Dusseldorf, Cologne, and down the Western Front to Stalag 12A near Frankfurt.

  Afterwards L/Cpl. Shellard was in captivity in the Dresden area and worked in a boot and shoe factory in Dresden for two months.

  The approach of the Americans caused the guards to march the prisoners into Czechoslovakia.  They spent three weeks in a small village there until the Russians occupied the area, by which time the guards had left.  The air journey from Czechoslovakia to Surrey occupied six hours.

  L/Cpl. Shellard saw Cpl. E. A. Edwards, also of Hall-avenue (now home), while on the march from Dresden to Czechoslovakia.

  Tpr. Albert Bayes, Royal Tank Regt., arrived at 138, St. Margaret’s-avenue, Rushden, on Monday afternoon.  He was captured by the Germans at Knightsbridge in N. Africa nearly three years ago.  Handed over to the Italians, he remained in Africa for five months before transfer to Italy.

  Following the capitulation of Italy he went to a concentration camp at Jacobsted in Germany until he was moved to Muleburg, where the prisoners were divided into working parties to do railway work.  After 20 months there he went with a party of 60 to Dresden, where he still worked on the railway.

  Four days before the German surrender Tpr. Bayes escaped with six fellow prisoners.  They walked for four days and nights until they reached Czechoslovakia.  Here they encountered German S.S. men who would have shot them if some Czechoslovakian people had not hidden them and then taken them to a public house, where they stayed the night and were given supper and breakfast.  Next morning they discovered that the Russians were in the other end of the town.  Eventually they reached the American lines and flew home from Erfurt in Germany, arriving in England on Saturday.

  Pte. Harold Austin, Northamptonshire Regiment, whose wife and daughter live at 61, Trafford-road, Rushden, arrived home last Friday.  He was captured in N. Africa over two years ago and was in Stalag 17A in Germany before liberation by the Americans.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 25th May, 1945, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Local Men Liberated By Russians
Latest Arrivals Were In Czechoslovakia

  Nearly all the Rushden and Higham Ferrers war prisoners who fell into German hands are now home.  More than 40 are safely accounted for and among the last to arrive are men who were finally liberated by the Russians in Czechoslovakia.

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