VE Day Poster 4 – Returning POWs
Archives & Heritage Officer Philip Jeffs looks back at VE Day posters in the archives…
By VE Day Prisoners of War were already finding their way home to Warrington in increasing numbers, having been liberated by the advancing Allies over the preceding weeks and months. Some soldiers were even welcomed as Guest of Honour at VE Day street parties.
Many of these prisoners brought home with them stories of life in the camps and in occupied countries. These stories were shared with friends and relatives and were even printed in the local papers.
The stories are varied and fascinating and only a taste of them can be given here, but others can be read in the Archives.
On 19th May the Warrington Examiner printed Jack Whitfield’s account of his escape and eventual return home. Jack had been captured at Tubruck and held in an Italian POW camp, when Italy fell he was transferred to Stalag 4B in Germany. During a move from Stalag 4B to another camp he managed to escape and for a fortnight was hidden by a local farmer. The farmer supplied him and some friends with eggs, milk and bread, which after the starvation rations he had received in the camps seemed a vast luxury. The downside to the situation was that he and his fellow escapees had to reside in the pig sty with the pigs. During their time hidden at the farm a unit of German soldiers were billeted there, sleeping in the barns, but the family managed to keep the escaped prisoners hidden throughout.
One thing that Jack mentions, which is common amongst the vast majority of POW accounts in the Warrington papers, is that without the Red Cross food parcels sent from home many of the prisoners would have starved.
Corporal Alfred Lloyd, of Marbury Street in Latchford had been a POW for 5 years when he was liberated. Alfred felt so strongly about the lack of food in the camps that he managed to smuggle out a photograph of a day’s rations. The photograph, below, shows a spoon of jam made from swedes, three small potatoes, a plate of gruel, and a piece of black bread. Also shown in the photograph is Corporal Lloyd’s shackles. Alfred reports that at one point he was kept shackled permanently for nine months, but that through the ingenuity of some other prisoners keys were sometimes made which could let him out of his shackles for short periods when no guards were around.
Corporal Lloyd tells readers how from September to December of 1944 the camp had provided no food at all for prisoners and the Red Cross parcels had been their only means of surviving.
Glider Pilot, Sergeant William Oaks of Legh Street, recalls how after his capture at Arnhem he was interrogated in a cell for five days with no food, whilst Private Edward Hart of Wardour Street, recounts working alongside slaves from the death camps at a benzine factory in the Sudetenland.
Many of the stories tell of shocking horrors and of great bravery and sacrifice, but there is also joy at being free and having survived and at being welcomed back home in Warrington.
The picture at the top of this page shows one welcome home party, Fred Ball of Stephen Street. Another party was that held for Signalman George Topping, of Chester Street. He arrived home to find “the whole street had been decorated with flags and bunting to welcome him. Even the curtains of his own home were red, white and blue”. He told the Examiner that after the black bread of the prison camps he now thinks our English bread tastes just like cake.
Prisoners and serving soldiers were returning to Warrington long after VE Day and after even VJ Day. For some descriptions of VJ Day celebrations in the town see our next poster.