A Merevale Prisoner of War Life

German and Italian soldiers just prior to repatriation after the end of WW2
Photograph courtesy of the Wright Family of North Warwickshire. From the Peter Lee Collection

I came to be here as a Prisoner of War in the Merevale Camp near Atherstone. This was towards the end of the war when the Italians had been moved on from the camp. They left it in a terrible mess so the first thing we had to to do was clear it all up! As a group we were all very skilled so we often helped with building works around the area. The person who ran the camp would often get us to help on repairs with his house because he knew that  we would do a good job.

Sport, theatre, and music

We made the camp look a lot nicer as well. Before, the Italians had just had their living quarters and some grassland but we created a full holiday camp style place. There was a full sized football pitch which we used to have games on, and we built a theatre that we and the local villagers could use. The orchestra used to play there and we would put on stage shows for the camp boss and the villagers.  I used to be the prompter, sat in the box at the front of the stage throwing lines out when the actors would inevitably forget what they were supposed to say. I could always do this regardless of whether it was German or English actors because I had taught myself English when I first came to the camp. I was curious about what everyone was saying and determined not to be out of the loop.

We got on very well with the local villagers, and none of them seemed to mind that we were there. They used to give us fresh eggs off their farm quite often, which we all enjoyed. Sometimes if the guards were in a bad mood they would confiscate the eggs from us. One time a guard tried to do this to me so I ‘accidentally’ dropped the eggs on the floor because I didn’t feel it was fair that I had been given them, and then they were going to enjoy them. However, the guards were often amicable and we didn’t have many problems apart from the odd times they were grumpy.

Treated fairly

We were treated quite fairly by the villagers that we did work for as well. After we’d cleaned up the camp we would often be shipped off in a lorry to various farms to help complete the labour needed in those areas. There was a particular farmer up in Grendon that we referred to as ‘Mr Scrooge’ because of how grumpy he acted towards us, but apart from him we were rarely treated like we were the enemy by anyone in the villages we worked in.

As well as doing labour for the farmers we would make toys for the children of the village at Christmas. These were made with whatever we could scrape and spare when we were working out and about, and while we were on the camp. It was nice to be doing something we could give to the community and it saved a lot of boredom when we were just stuck in the camp and not out on labouring jobs.

Setting down roots

There was a chap from the village who used to go around doing door to door sales of the items that we had made for the children. As one of the few Germans who could speak English I would often go out with him so that I could explain what it was that had been made. It was through doing this that I met my wife Violet. She has unfortunately passed away now but when she was alive she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She had this gorgeous singing voice that would just carry you away with the melodies that she could sing.

When the camp shut I stayed in England so that Vi and I could get married. We had to wait till after the war had ended because even though the villagers were kind towards us it would have been fairly scandalous for us to have got married while I was still a Prisoner of War. We lived together in the village, and had two beautiful girls who I adore. Life is quieter now with Vi gone and without the kids who have flown the nest but I still enjoy my life here in the village.

This article was published as part of the Warwickshire in 100 Objects project, part of Warwickshire Bytes.

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